An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) established by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission March 24 ordered a judicial hearing on the licensing of UniStar Nuclears proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 nuclear reactor on the Chesapeake Bay.
In doing so, the ASLB flatly rejected UniStars claim that its proposed reactor is so safe that no person could ever be harmed by an accident at the plant. Rather, the ASLB upheld the NRCs precedent that people within 50 miles of the site have the right to challenge reactor license applications.
The ASLB ordered the courtroom-style hearings on three key issues:
*whether the entire project is illegal under the Atomic Energy Acts prohibition against foreign ownership, control or domination of a nuclear reactor
*whether UniStar Nuclear must prove it can afford to pay eventual decommissioning liabilities before receiving a federal construction license
*how UniStar will handle the highly radioactive waste, classified as Class B and C low-level waste, the reactor will generate given that the only site in the country that accepted this waste closed in July 2008. UniStars application did not include adequate on-site storage facilities for this dangerous waste.
Intervenors argue the massive investment by Electricite de France (EdF) in Marylands Constellation Energy Group violates the Atomic Energy Actthe fundamental basis of all nuclear law. EdF owns half of UniStar Nuclear, and another 9.5% of Constellation itselfthe other half-owner. EdF also is investing $4.5 billion in Constellation to purchase half of its existing nuclear reactors, and has an option for another $2 billion investment to buy non-nuclear generating facilities. The reactor itself would be supplied by another French company, Areva. Substantial financing of the project is expected, according to UniStar officials, to come from the French export-import bank. All three entities are organs of the French government.
If the ASLB agrees after hearing testimony that this overwhelming participation by French companies and the French government constitutes ownership, control, or domination by foreign entities, UniStars license will be denied.
The intervenors that sought the hearing and gained standing are Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Beyond Nuclear, Public Citizen, and Southern Maryland Citizens Alliance for Renewable Energy Solutions (SoMDCARES). All are within 50 miles of the Calvert Cliffs site. Initial filings were made in November 2008, and a pre-hearing conference on whether a hearing should occur was held on February 20, 2009.
The ASLB rejected four contentions submitted by the intervenors: one arguing the license application should consider the full cumulative impacts of building new reactors on the Chesapeake Bay; one on the dangers posed by the sites proximity to the Dominion Cove Liquified Natural Gas complex and the inadequacy of the PPRP Risk Analysis which Calvert Cliffs3 has heavily relied upon in its application; one on the impacts to the Bay of the reactors cooling water intake pumps; and one on the lack of a facility to dispose of the lethal high-level radioactive waste the reactor would generate.
The latter issue was deemed generic and thus not admissible in a single reactor licensing proceeding. Separately, however, the intervenors have submitted a contention arguing for a stay of the licensing proceeding until high-level waste issues have been resolved. That contention was not addressed by this ASLB order.
The ASLB wisely rejected UniStar Nuclears preposterous claim that its reactorwhich has never operated anywhere in the world and for which the design is not even completeis so safe that nobody could ever challenge it. Nuclear power is an inherently dangerous technology, and UniStars cavalier attitude already demonstrates it is unfit to operate a nuclear reactor, said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS.
Now that our standing is confirmed, we will have the opportunity to submit new contentions as new application documents and safety concerns emerge, noted Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear. We expect a long process.
UniStars French connection will prove to be its Achilles Heel, said Mariotte. The Atomic Energy Act is clear: this level of foreign involvement is illegal. Imagine if the Iranian or North Korean government were to have this kind of investment in a U.S. nuclear projectthe howls of protest at the NRC and in Congress would be deafening. But the Act wisely does not differentiate between friend and foe, because no one can predict the future. 35 years ago, the U.S. was selling nuclear technology to Iran, now were trying to get them to end their nuclear program.
The order is available at http://www.nirs.org/nukerelapse/calvert/aslborder324.pdf.