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NRC Says NINA Doesn’t Meet Their Requirements

STP US vs Foreign OwnershipOn Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told judges overseeing the licensing case for two proposed South Texas Project reactors that the applicant (NINA) is subject to foreign ownership control or domination requirements and does not meet the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act in this regard. This will help licensing opponents in the hearing that is anticipated this fall.

“This NRC notice is great for us as opponents of two proposed reactors at the South Texas Project,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition, a group that has intervened in the licensing process, along with the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy and Public Citizen. “We hope that we’ll soon see clean, safe energy developed in Texas instead of dangerous nuclear power. We must prevent Fukushima style disasters from happening here.”

“Federal law is clear that foreign controlled corporations are not eligible to apply for a license to build and operate nuclear power plants. The evidence is that Toshiba is in control of the project and this precludes obtaining an NRC license for South Texas Project 3 & 4,” said Brett Jarmer, an attorney also representing the intervenors.

“Foreign investment in U.S nuclear projects is not per se prohibited; but Toshiba is paying all the bills for the STP 3 & 4 project. This makes it difficult to accept that Toshiba doesn’t control the project,” said Robert Eye.

Toshiba North America Engineering, or TANE, will assume exclusive, principal funding authority for the project, but they are a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc, a Japanese corporation. Opponents contend that this makes them ineligible for licensing.

“National security and safety concerns justify NRC’s limits on foreign ownership and control of nuclear reactors,” said Karen Hadden, Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “What if a foreign company was careless in running a U.S. reactor? International allegiances are known to shift. Our own reactors could become a weapon to be turned against us in the future and be used to threaten civilians in a war against the U.S. The NRC is right to protect against this possibility.”

“Even if the reactors are operated by the South Texas Nuclear Operating Company, they will get their orders from foreign owners. What if their concerns are more about cost-cutting and less about safety?” asked Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “Japanese investors would have us believe that they can come to America and safely build, own and operate nuclear plants, and that we should not concern ourselves with passé laws and regulations, but the recent Fukushima disaster has demonstrated the flawed Japanese model of nuclear safety and the lack of protection afforded the Japanese people. In such an inherently dangerous industry, the American people deserve protection through federal law, including that our nuclear reactors are controlled by the people most concerned about our country: fellow Americans.”

“Foreign Ownership, Control or Domination policy is spelled out in the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.  “In Section 103d it says that no license may be issued to an alien or any corporation or other entity if the Commission knows or has reason to believe it is owned, controlled, or dominated by an alien, a foreign corporation, or a foreign government.”

The NRC interprets this to mean that these entities are not eligible to apply for and obtain a license. According to Commission guidance, an entity is under foreign ownership, control, or domination “whenever a foreign interest has the ‘power,’ direct or indirect, whether or not exercised, to direct or decide matters affecting the management or operations of the applicant.” There is no set percentage point cut-off point used to determine foreign ownership. The factors that are considered include:

  • The extent of foreign ownership
  • Whether the foreign entity operates the reactors
  • Whether there are interlocking directors and officers
  • Whether there is access to restricted data
  • Details of ownership of the foreign parent company.

For further information please visit www.NukeFreeTexas.org

To read the staff FODC determination letter, click here.

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Excelon at Victoria, TX

Earlier this week, Exelon Generation announced plans to withdraw its Early Site Permit application for an 11,500-acre tract of land southeast of Victoria, TX.

The company said the decision was based mainly on economics and sited current market conditions that make it impossible to create electricity for less than what the company could sell it for.  This comes down to the price of natural gas which has seen substantial drop making it impossible to build a large base load nuclear plant and make a profit.

Excelon had submitted an Early Site Permit application that would have given them 20 years before they would be required to build a plant.  Given that,  they must believe that the current economic trend is a long-term one.

Citizens in the region opposing the plant had expressed concerns regarding the region’s water supply, the knowledge that most of power generated would have gone to other areas, and safety risks regarding malfunctions and attacks.

South Texas Nuclear Project

With the NRC rejection of the Calvert Cliffs new site permit because of its foreign ownership (French Électricité de France-EDF), the application for expansion of South Texas Project (for a 3rd and 4th unit) will probably be rejected to because of it’s predominantly Japanese ownership (Toshiba).

The 1954 Atomic Energy Act prohibits the NRC from issuing a reactor license to any company owned by a foreign corporation or government.

STP also has an application in for a license extension.  We don’t know what is happening with license extensions with regard to the issue of long term waste storage.  We will update when we have a better indication of how the NRC is going to handle those applications.

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STP US vs Foreign OwnershipThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission has suspended its review of the foreign ownership portion of the application to expand the South Texas Project nuclear plant over concerns that the owners haven’t done enough to ensure domestic control of the plant.

Toshiba Corp., based in Japan, could obtain an 85 percent ownership stake in the two nuclear plants proposed for the site outside of Bay City, the NRC found, meaning the company could have “the power to exercise ownership, control or domination over NINA,” or Nuclear Innovation North America.

NINA is a partnership between Toshiba and NRG Energy, which currently shares ownership of STP’s existing nuclear plants with CPS Energy and Austin Energy.

According to the Express-News, NRC staff, in its Dec. 13 letter to NINA, determined that the plan as submitted doesn’t meet the requirements of a federal law prohibiting foreign ownerships of a nuclear plant because, since NRG will not be investing additional capital in the project, “there is reason to believe that most of the financing going forward will be from Toshiba,” a foreign corporation.

This decision could push back a final decision on the license application:

The commission confirmed that the rest of the licensing application will continue to move ahead, but a license, which has been expected by sometime in 2012, will not be granted until the foreign ownership question is resolved.

Back in April of this year, federal officials said French owned UniStar Nuclear Energy was not eligible to build a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs because it is not a U.S.-owned company.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said although a review of the application for the $9.6 billion reactor in Southern Maryland will still take place, a license would not be issued until the ownership requirements were met.  That application now lies languishing for want of U.S. based investors.

Here’s a link: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/energy/article/NRC-halts-nuclear-expansion-s-review-over-foreign-2402923.php

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In an earlier blog we mentioned the hearings on Capitol Hill being held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the implications of Japan’s nuclear accident for the United States.  Besides the concern that the nation’s nuclear safety rules had failed to consider the possibility of losing both off-site power from the electric grid and on-site emergency diesel generators. (NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis said that this condition produces a station blackout, and the commission has a rule covering such blackouts, but Mr. Jaczko said that the thrust of the statement was that the agency had not thought enough about a single event that would damage both the grid and the diesel backup generators, causing a plant to take longer to recover), there was testimony about the spent fuel rods.

At Fukushima, the spent fuel rods stored on site posed as grave a threat as the reactor cores. They are packed with uranium, are very unstable and generally not well-protected. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, when asked by Sen. Tom Carper about the spent fuel pools in the United States, admitted that “we have not given that enough attention.”

Jaczko also said that until Fukushima, the NRC had never really considered the possibility that multiple reactors or even multiple plants could fail at the same time, due to some sort of large-scale natural disaster or other event. “Our traditional approach has always been to assume a single incident at a single reactor,” he said. “Clearly Fukushima-Daiichi showed us that we have to consider the possibility of multiple units at a single site, perhaps multiple spent fuel pools being affected at the same time.”

Commissioners also had no answers about how to fix backup power systems so that they continue to cool nuclear material in the event of a major power outage. The batteries at Fukushima ran for only eight hours, in the United States, the standard length is only four hours.  NRC commissioner George Apostolakis testified that he was not sure what action would/could be taken to address the problem.

Amidst these less-than-inspiring answers, larger questions loom about nuclear regulation. The NRC has frequently been criticized as too close to the nuclear industry (not unlike Japan’s admission in a draft report to the IAEA, that its nuclear regulator was run by a ministry, which has been the chief promoter of nuclear energy for decades – click here to read our earlier blog on the IAEA report).

During the 2008 campaign, President Obama, while promoting nuclear energy as the electric power source of our future, called the NRC “a moribund agency…captive of the industry it regulates,” but little was done to bring it back to it’s primary mandate of being the watchdog for nuclear safety.  Rather, the NRC has been more of a cheerleader for the industry, even after the Fukushima disaster.  A Wall Street Journal MarketWatch article highlights this point:

The Obama administration is considering whether to intervene in a legal dispute between Entergy Corp and Vermont over continued operation of the state’s only nuclear plant, two officials familiar with the matter said Thursday.

At issue is whether the state has the authority to block Entergy’s bid to continue operating the Vermont Yankee plant beyond March 2012. Typically, federal regulators have jurisdiction over the licensing of nuclear reactors.

During a Senate hearing Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Kristine Svinicki, a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the Justice Department is weighing whether to intervene in the case.

“The litigation posture of the United States is under active deliberation by the Justice Department and they’ve asked that in our testimony today we not comment any further,” Svinicki said, citing an exchange between her staff and the department.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Sanders also said the Justice Department had consulted the five-member nuclear commission about the issue and that on Wednesday, commission had privately voted, 3-2, in favor of federal intervention in the case. None of the commissioners would confirm the specifics of that vote, citing the need to keep legal matters private.

Another member of the commission, William Ostendorff, said the discussions between the Justice Department and the nuclear agency were “a matter of whether or not the NRC has an interest in this case, dealing with pre-emption issues.”

“The political reality is that the DOJ is going to have to make a decision,” Sanders responded. Earlier in the hearing, he told the commissioners, “in my very strong opinion, it is not your business to get involved in that fight.”

Entergy wants to extend the life of its Vermont Yankee plant beyond March 2012, but has run into opposition to nuclear reactors that has escalated across the country following a nuclear crisis in Japan and revelations about potentially inadequate disaster preparedness at nuclear plants in the U.S.

Both the nuclear industry and regulators have said they will make changes as a result of the events in Japan. At the hearing Thursday, the NRC members again said they expect to tighten rules governing backup power for nuclear plants.

At the same time, the regulators have not backed away from their normal business of reviewing license extensions and new reactor designs.

In March, the NRC gave the green light to Entergy, approving operations at Vermont Yankee for another 20 years. But when Entergy bought the Vermont facility in 2002, it agreed to give state regulators say over the license extension.

The state passed a law in 2006 requiring Vermont legislators to approve the extension. Now, Entergy says that law invalidates their agreement and the decision should be up to federal regulators.

Senator Sanders (I-VT) repeatedly criticized the commissioners on this point during the hearings, urging them to step back from the issue. “If the state of Vermont chooses energy efficiency and sustainable energy for its future, instead of an aging and trouble-ridden nuclear power plant, it is not the place of the NRC to prevent us from doing that,” he told them. “The NRC’s mandate is very clear. Its concerns begin and end with safety. It is not supposed to be the arbiter of political or legal disputes between a $14 billion dollar energy company and the people of Vermont.”

To view the archived webcast of the hearing, click here.

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No Radioactive WasteNRC and EPA called upon to examine radioactive waste site and licensing process, risks of groundwater contamination and potential risks to the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies beneath eight states

AUSTIN – Environmental groups today asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the radioactive waste storage and disposal programs administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the West Texas radioactive waste site owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS).  The groups say the TCEQ has failed to protect public health, safety and the environment by repeatedly and brazenly abusing its legal authority and disregarding warnings of its technical staff about the site’s hazards. Further, citizens have not had adequate opportunities to participate in the licensing processes.

The groups are calling on the NRC to consider terminating or suspending the TCEQ’s authority to regulate the storage and disposal of low-level radioactive waste and radioactive byproducts in Texas. The groups also are asking the EPA to review the potential impact on the water supply and take action if necessary.

Read the full release, the request to NRC and EPA,and supporting documents online at www.TexasNuclearSafety.org. The request was filed by Public Citizen and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, along with State Representative Lon Burnam (Texas House District 90), and individuals from Andrews, Texas and Eunice, New Mexico, who live near the WCS facility in Andrews County. The matter is urgent because WCS has been pushing the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission to let it import radioactive waste from at least 36 other states.

Some of the hottest radioactive waste that exists, including nuclear reactor containment vessels and poison curtains that absorb reactor radiation, could be buried in the proposed radioactive waste dump. There is not a single radionuclide that can’t go to the so-called ‘low-level’ site, and many of them remain hazardous for literally millions of years.

Radioactive waste dumps around the country have leaked. Cleaning up contaminated groundwater is difficult and expensive. Texas taxpayers could be on the hook for clean up costs if the site and groundwater become contaminated or if there are transportation accidents.

Go to www.TexasNuclearSafety.org to learn more.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted for review the Exelon Nuclear Texas Holdings Early Site Permit (ESP) application for the Victoria County site near Victoria, Texas.

The application and associated information were initially submitted on March 25 and is available, minus proprietary and security-related details, on the NRC Web site at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/esp/victoria.html.

Exelon’s application seeks approval for safety and environmental issues for the site, approximately 13 miles south of Victoria.  If approved by the NRC this would give Exelon three to 20 years to decide whether to build a plant in Victoria County. It can be extended for another 20 years, giving the company up to 40 years to begin construction from the time that the NRC approves the permit.

Now the site permit application will undergo a three- to four-year review process by the NRC in which it will evaluate the project’s environmental impact and safety preparedness.

Water use figures prominently into the concerns of many. The Guadalupe River is the designated water source for the possible power plant, and Exelon has a water reservation agreement with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) that expires in 2013. (more…)

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Agency Is Refusing to Adhere to an Order to Release Document That Would Help Determine Safety of New Nuclear Reactors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should stop balking and provide a critical document that would reveal how the owners of a Texas nuclear plant expansion project plan to deal with a fire or explosion, three public interest groups told the commission late last week.

Three administrative judges of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board have ordered the agency to provide at least a redacted version, but NRC staffers have refused. The NRC’s lack of transparency could impact the ability to get adequate safety-related information not only about the South Texas Project (STP) but about other proposed reactors around the country as well.

Late Friday, the groups – the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Public Citizen and the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy – filed a brief with the NRC. It noted that the NRC staff’s refusal to provide the information violated President Barack Obama’s new transparency policy. The groups also said the NRC is acting arbitrarily and trying to shut the public out of NRC proceedings.

“After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress required new fire and safety standards for all new plants and the NRC developed rules to reflect this. Now, the NRC is trying to do its work behind closed doors, and its staffers are literally making up how to handle information as they go along, keeping as much secret as possible,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition. “Without disclosure of this information, we can’t tell how well the NRC is doing in protecting the public.” (more…)

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Last week San Antonio’s CPS released their cost estimate for the proposed South Texas Project Nuclear Expansion, and we found their numbers naive optimistic ignored history wanting.  To find out why, check out this Guest Column, printed in today’s San Antonio Express-News, from Public Citizen’s own Energy Policy Analyst Matthew Johnson.

Matthew Johnson: Why not cheaper, safer sources of energy?

Matthew Johnson: Why not cheaper, safer sources of energy?

Nuclear reactors too expensive

By Matthew Johnson – Express-News Guest Voices

CPS Energy announced its cost estimate for two more nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project near Bay City last week. The $13-billion price tag is the latest estimate in a sustained and systemic low-balling by utilities wishing to receive government subsidies.

CPS’ partner, NRG Energy, recently pegged the cost of units 3 and 4 at $10 billion, a figure that has jumped nearly 50 percent from its original estimate of $5.4 billion.

Other analyses, however, have estimated the cost of two new reactors to be nearly 100 percent higher than the CPS estimate. Former Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel official Clarence Johnson recently estimated the cost of STP expansion to be $20 billion to $22 billion, while nuclear engineer and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Dr. Arjun Makhijani estimated a cost of up to $17.5 billion in 2008.

A new study by Mark Cooper, of the Vermont Law School, analyzed numerous cost estimates of the so-called nuclear renaissance beginning around 2001. He discovered that early estimates of new nuclear reactors were made predominantly by industry and academics and were optimistic and eager to rejuvenate the industry.

Since then, utilities’ estimates have shown similar wishful thinking, but continue to rise. Independent analysts and Wall Street, Cooper shows, offer the most realistic estimates that are much higher.

The history of the STP expansion effort follows this pattern. CPS and NRG have been attempting to gain support in federal, state and city government since they submitted their application to build two new reactors to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2007.

Wall Street estimates also place a similar and continuously rising price tag on new reactors. The bond-rating agency Moody’s predicted $5,000-6,000 per kilowatt for new reactors almost two years ago, which translates to $16.2 billion for STP expansion, and recently indicated that it could downgrade bond ratings on utilities constructing new nuclear reactors.

The federal government established an $18.5 billion subsidy to back loans taken out to construct new reactors. STP expansion advocates brag about being on the short list for part of these loan guarantees, but proponents and opponents agree that more reactors won’t be built if the feds don’t pony up the dough.

The reason is simple. Investors are squeamish to lend money for projects with such a high risk of defaulting on repayments. Delay and cost overruns increase risk. STP’s original reactors took eight years longer than planned to complete and costs soared six times over original estimates.

CPS Energy has faster and cheaper alternatives. Their recent announcement on the 27 megawatt solar plant in West Texas, the Mission Verde plan to develop 250 megawatts of solar and new wind contracts plus their goal to save 771 megawatts through energy efficiency by 2020 are shining examples of the path they should focus on to keep rates stable and low in the future. This path also creates more local jobs.

City Council will soon have to decide on San Antonio’s involvement in new reactors. It must vote no on nuclear to protect San Antonians from bearing the overwhelming economic burden of building costly, dangerous and unnecessary nuclear reactors.

Matthew Johnson is an energy policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Texas office.

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Oral Hearing Set for June 23rd-June 24th in Bay City, TX

Citizen opposition to more nuclear reactors in Texas continues. On June 23rd-24th an oral hearing will be held before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on the Citizens’ Petition to Intervene in South Texas Project (STP) Nuclear Power Plant Units 3 and 4.

SEED Coalition, Public Citizen and South Texas Association for Responsible Energy are petitioners seeking to intervene in the proposed expansion of South Texas Project.

“Building two more nuclear reactors at STP is not in the best interest of the local community,” said Susan Dancer, a local wildlife rehabilitator. “Pursuing the most expensive and most water intensive energy source in a time of extraordinary drought and economic recession makes no sense. The local community will get stuck with more radioactive waste and bear heavy infrastructure costs if the proposed reactors get built. The existing reactors have not solved local economic problems.” Dancer chairs the Bay City based organization South Texas Association for Responsible Energy (STARE).

Attorney Robert V. Eye will represent the petitioners before the designated Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel and argue the admissibility of the 28 contentions citizens filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 21st. These contentions point out the inadequacies and the incompleteness of South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company’s (STPNOC) combined operating license application (COLA) to construct and operate South Texas Project Units 3 and 4. NRG Energy and San Antonio’s municipal utility CPS Energy are both applicants for the proposed reactors, which fall within STPNOC.

“NRG has failed to comply with new federal regulations regarding aircraft impacts,” stated Mr. Eye. “These new regulations are very specific and require the applicant to plan for catastrophic fires and/or explosions that would cause the loss of major critical functional components in the plant. After 9-11, an aircraft attack on a nuclear power plant is a real and credible threat. Moreover, fire hazards represent about half of the risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown. NRG’s noncompliance with these regulations puts citizens around South Texas Project in a dangerous position, which is completely unacceptable.” (more…)

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will hold two public meetings tomorrow in Irving, Texas, on a proposed new rule that would change the emergency preparedness requirements for existing and proposed nuclear power plants. Since 9/11, there has been growing concern that the country’s 104 existing reactors are potential terrorist targets and are more vulnerable to major disasters if attacked. There is additional concern that the nuclear reactors being proposed across the country, six of which are in Texas, would not be able to sufficiently mitigate a terrorist attack such as by aircraft.

In their 2007 report, Nuclear Power in a Warming World, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a set of recommendations that address shortcomings of current NRC regulations including a recommendation that the NRC treat the risks of sabotage and attacks on par with risks of nuclear accididents, and require all environmental reviews during licensing to consider such threats. This issue is particularly relevant to Texas because the NRC is currently hearing oral arguments by the SEED Coalition, Public Citizen, Rep. Lon Burnam, and the local citizen’s group True Cost of Nukes, who seek to intervene in the application by Luminant to expand the Comanche Peak nuclear plant near Glen Rose, Texas.

A contention regarding the lack of safeguards and emergency preparedness for the crash of an airliner into nuclear reactors is among the issues being raised by the groups, who point out that concerned citizens and groups have not had access to the full information needed in this regard.

Public Citizen intends to file comments on the proposed rule, which are due no later than August 3.

The meeting is an opportunity for the public to learn about the proposed rule and ask questions. It will take place at the Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport; 4545 W. John Carpenter Freeway; Irving, Texas. The meeting will have two sessions, from 2:00 to 4:30 and from 7:00 to 9:30 PM.

The NRC press release for the meeting is available at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2009/09-019.iv.html.

For those who cannot attend in person, the meeting will be webcast. To participate, register ASAP at https://www.livemeeting.com/lrs/8001607981/Registration.aspx?PageName=bg8044041h843dp2 and call in to 1-800-779-8609 (PIN 21726). For more information, contact Annette Stang with the NRC at 1-800-368-5642.

The proposed rule is published in the Federal Register at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-10947.pdf

The UCS report is available at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/nuclear-power-in-a-warming-world.pdf.

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stop nukeOral Hearing Set for June 10th-11th in Granbury, TX

Citizen opposition to more nuclear reactors in Texas continues. On June 10th-11th an oral hearing will be held before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on Citizens’ petition to intervene in Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant Units 3 and 4.

“I have many grave concerns about building more nuclear reactors in Texas,” said Texas Representative Lon Burnam, District 90, Ft. Worth, one of the petitioners seeking to intervene in the proposed expansion of Comanche Peak. “The risks are simply too high. As the most expensive and most water intensive energy source, and with the unsolved problem of how to handle the radioactive waste, Texans deserve better.”

SEED Coalition, Public Citizen and the Ft. Worth-based True Cost of Nukes are also petitioners. Attorney, Robert V. Eye, will go before the designated Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel and argue the admissibility of the 19 contentions citizens filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 6th. These contentions point out the inadequacies and the incompleteness of Luminant’s combined operating license application (COLA) to construct and operate Comanche Peak Units 3 and 4.

“Luminant has failed to comply with new federal regulations regarding aircraft impacts,” stated Mr. Eye. “These new regulations are very specific and require the applicant to plan for catastrophic fires and/or explosions that would cause the loss of major critical functional components in the plant. After 9-11, an aircraft attack on a nuclear power plant is a real and credible threat. Moreover, fire hazards represent about half of the risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown. Luminant’s noncompliance with these regulations puts citizens around Comanche Peak in a dangerous position, which is completely unacceptable.”

“Nuclear power is dangerous, expensive and obsolete,” says Karen Hadden, Executive Director of Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “Wind energy is booming and the cost of solar is coming down, while the costs of proposed nuclear plants is skyrocketing. Although they’re required to do so, Luminant failed to fully consider safer, more affordable alternatives to nuclear in their license application.” (more…)

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simpson-nuke This week citizens submitted two separate filings to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) opposing Luminant (formerly TXU)’s proposed Comanche Peak nuclear reactors. Petitioners include state Rep. Lon Burnam, the SEED Coalition, Public Citizen and the Ft. Worth based True Cost of Nukes.

In the past, NRC has made  companies jump through two major hoops before their operating license is granted.  First, the company must complete the reactor design certification process which ensures that the design for the plant is safe.  If a company decides to choose a pre-certified design that has been built before and the NRC has vetted, they may get their operating license faster because they can skip dealing with design issues.  After their design is approved, the company can then file for their license to operate in a separate process.  This is when citizens have the opportunity to analyze such documents as the Environmental Impact Statement and file contentions.

But for this new fleet of nuclear plants being licensed, the NRC has streamlined this process, combining both the design certification and licensing process into one.  This is a major problem for reactors such as those proposed at Comanche Peak because they are submitting a design that has never been built before anywhere in the world.  It hardly makes sense that NRC can approve a plant to operate when they don’t even know if the plant design is feasible or safe, but that is exactly what is happening.  This is kind of like getting in car and driving off to the drugstore when you’re not sure where it is and… oops, might not even know how to drive.

“By 
moving 
the
 license 
forward
 without 
having 
certified
 the 
design,
 the
 NRC
 is
 violating
 its 
own 
rules,” 
said 
attorney 
Robert 

Eye,  “The
 licensing
 process
 should
 be 
halted 
until 
the 
NRC 
can 
honestly
 say 
that 
the 
reactor
 design 
is 
safe.”

Rep. Lon Burnam has compared what the NRC is doing to making those living near Comanche Peak “guinea pigs in a radioactive experiment.”  Other nuclear plants that have 
gone forth with construction before their design was finalized and approved by regulators have seen serious complications.

In addition to the madness of the NRC’s licensing process, there were even further contentions filed concerning defects in Comanche Peak’s license application.  These contentions include:

  • inadequate fire protection
  • no viable radioactive waste disposal plan
  • inability to secure against airplane attacks
  • financial, health and safety risks
  • vast water consumption
  • failure to address safe, clean energy alternatives

The next step in this process is for the NRC to respond to citizen’s petitions and contentions.

For further information on contentions filed, check out SEED Coalition’s press release after the jump. (more…)

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Rep. Lon Burnam’s bill, HB 3423, will be heard on Wednesday, April 1st, in the House Committee on Environmental Regulation hearing at 10:30 AM or upon adjournment, in E1.014. If you are able to come, we’re trying to get as many people as possible to register their support of this bill (by filling out a witness affirmation form). That’s right, officially registering your opinion on a bill is as simple as filling out a card.  The bill closes the Compact Loophole, and requires other states who want to send radioactive waste here to get legislative approval first.

The Compact Agreement was originally between Texas, Maine and Vermont.  Maine pulled out of the Compact, and now Texas and Vermont are able to send their radioactive so-called “low-level” waste to be stored at the Andrews County dump in West Texas. A loophole in the Compact Agreement allows any state to send radioactive waste to Texas. We don’t need to be the nation’s nuclear dump!

The license for that dump was recently issued by the TCEQ, and the agency wrongly denied the opportunity for a contested case hearing (read: locals were not allowed to voice their opposition in any formal environment). Three long-term scientists at TCEQ recommended denying the permit — and actually left their jobs for ethical reasons once the permit was approved. The science is NOT solid for the Andrews County radioactive waste dump – and there are concerns that radionuclides could come in contact with underground water. It is possible that contamination could spread to the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies eight states, including the nation’s wheat growing region.

96% of the radioactive waste slated  for the site would be from nuclear reactors — everything except the fuel rods. Radionuclides in the waste are dangerous today and remain dangerous for thousands of years. A recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruling reclassified depleted uranium from reprocessing, putting it into a less hazardous (Class A) category. Now up to 1.4 million tons of depleted uranium could go to the West Texas site and/or Clive, Utah sites.

If you can’t make it in person, calls to the Environmental Regulation committee in support of Burnam’s bill are needed! If you are a constituent, please let them know that.

Rep. Byron Cook (Chair) – 512-463-0646, [email protected]
Rep. Warren Chisum (Vice-Chair) – 512-463-0736, [email protected]
Rep. Lon Burnam – 512-463-0740, (it’s his bill, give him a call to say thanks.)
Rep. Jim Dunnam – 512-463-0508, Jim.[email protected]
Rep. Jessica Farrar – 512-463-0620, [email protected]
Rep. Kelly Hancock – 512-463-0599, [email protected]
Rep. Ken Legler – 512-463-0460, [email protected]
Rep Marc Veasey – 512-463-0716, [email protected]
Rep. Randy Weber – 512-463-0707, [email protected]

For further background on the Andrews County dump, check out Forrest Wilder’s article from the last Texas Observer, Waste Texas: Why Andrews County is so eager to get dumped on. Or if you’re more the auditory type, listen to the podcast.

Check out the press release after the jump.

(more…)

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hourglassHey Look!  A press release from SEED Coalition and Public Citizen:

60 Day Clock For Nuclear Opponents Starts Ticking;
Luminant Moves Forward Toward Expansion of Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant
Reactor Design Not Ready for Primetime

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission posted notice today on the federal register of Luminant’s application to build two reactors at the Comanche Peak nuclear plant site, southwest of Fort Worth. Citizens now have only 60 days to prepare and present their legal case in opposition.

The reactor design (US-APWR) has not been approved by the NRC and it has never been built anywhere in the world. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. submitted the US-Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (US-APWR) for design certification on December 31, 2007, but the review will take the NRC at least until 2011 to complete.

“This fast-tracked combined construction and operating license process was rationalized based on the assumption that new reactors would only use pre-certified designs, but the Comanche Peak reactor design is not approved yet. Not only does this put a huge burden on the public to quickly learn what’s happening and become involved within only 60 days, but it also puts pressure on the NRC to rubberstamp designs that should have extra scrutiny,” said Smith.

“The streamlined process is designed to cut citizens out and limit public involvement in the licensing of two reactors that could cost $22 billion before cost overruns,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “It makes the fast-tracking of TXU’s coal plants in Texas look slow.”

Comanche Peak Unit One ran ten times over budget and was years late coming online. An untested reactor design increases the likelihood of similar problems occurring again and soaring rate hikes that would result.

“If safety was a real concern, the three processes all occurring simultaneously would be take one at a time. This rush increases risks of safety oversight and problems from faulty design and construction” said Hadden. “Reactor designs should be analyzed first, and if and when the NRC deems them adequate, a construction license application should be allowed. If the plant has no major construction flaws after completion, then the operating license should be decided.” (more…)

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Hey, look! A joint press release from Public Citizen Texas, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the SEED Coalition:

An NRC Environmental Scoping Meeting will be held on Jan. 6th in Glen Rose, Texas to take comment on the environmental impact study for two nuclear reactors proposed for the existing Comanche Peak site. A coalition of environmental and consumer groups and their members will be telling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Luminant (formerly TXU) that nuclear plants are “too risky, too expensive and too dangerous” to help Texas meet its power needs, and makes no sense when clean, safe, affordable options exist. The coalition of groups said they
only learned of the hastily called public meeting to seek input on environmental issues on December 24th.

“We’ve been down this road before,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The utility industry sold Texas on Comanche Peak and the South Texas Project and consumers have been paying the ‘stranded’ costs ever since, even as valuable water resources are expended and radioactive waste piles up on-site.”

Luminant proposes to build two more nuclear reactors at the existing Comanche Peak nuclear site near Glen Rose, in Somervell County, using an unproven, untested technology known as USAPWR. “The design of the reactors has not been certified and has never been builtanywhere in the world. Why should Texas serve as guinea pigs for a dangerous radioactive experiment?” asked Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “Design problems as well as human error led to numerous problems and shutdowns of Comanche Peak reactors in the past. The competence and character of Luminant need to be examined closely since the history of the existing reactors is disastrous. In the past, there was a chance to fix nuclear reactor construction problems before an operating license was issued, but that safeguard is gone with the new licensing process.” (more…)

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