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Va. Nuclear Plant's Plans Raise Fears

Terror Concerns Complicate Rare Request to Expand

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page C08

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the North Anna nuclear power plant, 80 miles south of Washington, meets post-Sept. 11 safety standards. That's not enough for Tommy Barlow.

"It seems as though it doesn't take anybody too smart to get a hold of a shoulder-mounted missile, with the means terrorists seem to be able to come up with," said Barlow, chairman of the planning commission in Louisa County, home to North Anna. "I definitely think it's an issue."

Louisa County, Va., has come to depend on North Anna Power Station for $10 million annually in tax revenue. (1998 Photo Bill Clark -- Daily Progress Via AP)

Dominion's nuclear plant has attracted more public attention recently than it has in decades as the power company applies to add two reactors to the two already there.

The application is one of only three in the country making its way through the federal system, the first requests for new nuclear reactors in the 25 years after the industry was rocked by an accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

In the past, routine North Anna events such as Dominion's annual "State of the Station" presentation or the company's request for a license renewal have drawn crowds that could be counted on one hand.

But last month, an NRC hearing in the town of Mineral on the proposed expansion drew 200 to 300 people, most of them -- by a show of hands -- in opposition.

Comments ranged from concern about the consequences for the environment and property values to support for the Bush administration's plan to significantly boost nuclear power, adding the equivalent of 50 reactors to the country's 103 by 2020. But activists say most common these days are concerns about terrorism and security.

"Al Qaeda has said they want to attack a nuclear power plant, and this is a sitting radioactive bomb," said Jerry Rosenthal, 56, a farmer and financial consultant who has been in the anti-nuclear movement in Louisa for nearly 30 years.

Security concerns have been heightened at plants across the country as underwater pools designed to hold nuclear waste have been filling up and utilities have been putting additional waste in aboveground casks that look like small silos.

Although the NRC and Dominion say the concrete and stainless steel casks are secure, even such middle-of-the-road Dominion supporters as Barlow have concerns.

In a 7 to 0 vote last month, the planning commission recommended that if Dominion wants an extension of its permit to keep 22 casks outside and permission to build dozens more, it should be required to build a berm "so that somebody can't get a direct line of sight and fire a missile directly at it," Barlow said.

Tomorrow, the commission's recommendations will go before the Louisa supervisors, and Dominion plans to oppose them, according to the company's nuclear affairs spokesman, Richard Zuercher.

"I'm not going to go into what we'll discuss, but we are in compliance with the NRC," he said, adding that the company has invested three times since the 2001 terrorist attacks in additional security measures required by the regulatory agency.

Tomorrow's vote in Louisa, a community largely reliant on recreation revenue from Lake Anna, the 13,000-acre lake created for the plant, is part of the local look at a very current national question: Where is U.S. nuclear waste going to go?

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