Calvert Cliffs Site Pushed For New Nuclear Reactor

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2005

A nuclear power plant in Calvert County is on a short list of sites that could become the location of the first nuclear energy reactor to be built in the United States in 30 years.

The Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, 50 miles southeast of Washington, is one of six sites that the nation's largest consortium of nuclear power companies is considering as a location for a new type of advanced reactor. The consortium, NuStart Energy Development LLC, plans to apply to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for licenses to build and operate plants at two of the six sites under review.

The new plants would be built next to the existing ones.

This week's announcement comes as the nuclear power industry and the federal government are trying to increase support for nuclear energy, which flagged after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl facility in Ukraine.

Robert L. Gould, a spokesman for Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, which owns Calvert Cliffs, said new nuclear plants are an environmentally friendly way to reduce reliance on foreign sources of energy.

"This process is the first step toward a resurgence of nuclear energy as a viable and necessary fuel for our future," he said.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with the environmental organization Greenpeace, said nuclear plants pose a serious public safety risk. He said Calvert Cliffs is even more dangerous than some because of its neighbor: the Cover Point liquefied natural gas terminal.

"Nuclear power was dangerous to begin with," he said. "Now that you have suicidal terrorists that are actually targeting reactors, we don't think this is the time to construct new ones."

In Calvert County, though, opposition to the nuclear power plant is minimal. Calvert Cliffs, which went online in 1975, is the county's largest taxpayer and private employer.

"Nuclear power doesn't scare me," said County Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby). "The power plant that's there now has been a great neighbor and a great partner in the community."

Carl Crawford, a spokesman for NuStart, said the consortium plans to select two sites by October and file applications for both with the NRC in 2008. He estimated it would take two years for the commission to grant approval. The consortium hopes the plants will open by 2015.

The consortium, made up of nine energy companies and two reactor vendors, was formed to deal with the tremendous financial risks involved in pursuing a license for a nuclear plant. Constellation is among the members.

Michael J. Wallace, president of Constellation Energy's Generation Group, estimated that it would cost $600 million to complete the design and engineering work necessary to obtain a construction and operating license for a new reactor. He said it would cost an estimated $2 billion to construct a new plant. The Department of Energy has agreed to pay half of the license-related costs in order to encourage applications.

Some opponents of nuclear energy say the cost estimates are misleadingly low and predicted that the federal government would be asked to cover the overruns.

"They are intentionally low-balling nuclear construction costs in the hopes that the American taxpayer will bail out this next boondoggle," Riccio said.

Crawford said the new plants would be simpler and cheaper to run because of a new design to cool reactors in the event of an emergency. He said a new plant could produce up to 1,400 megawatts of electricity, or enough to supply 1.4 million people; current systems can produce only 1,000 megawatts.

Although officials made a point of saying that no company has committed to building a new reactor, Wallace said he hoped NuStart would select Calvert Cliffs as one of the first applicants.

Constellation executives say there's plenty of room for a new plant. Wallace said the current plant in Calvert Cliffs is using less than 700 acres of a 2,300-acre site.

"We'd be happy if everything came together in support of our site," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company