Amid the Applause, the Sound of Dissent

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

When UniStar Nuclear took another step last week toward building a reactor in Calvert County to generate electricity, the big question wasn't so much who supported the concept.

"A great idea," said county Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby), summing up the views of many residents who are so comfortable living near two long-running reactors that some even go fishing next to them. "This country is in dire need of energy, and the nuclear stuff is a good, clean, environmentally friendly way to do it."

The bigger question: Who opposed it?

A partial answer could be found Thursday night inside a conference room along Main Street as dusk settled over Annapolis. Sitting around a table, munching on carrot sticks, homemade hummus, grapes and crackers were six members of a nascent group, which they decided that night would be called the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition. One each came from Baltimore, Columbia, Washington and St. Mary's County and two from Calvert.

How much criticism they can bring to bear -- and they intend to bring a lot -- could play a role in shaping how the planning and review process unfolds for the proposed reactor. Last Monday, UniStar, which hopes to build at least four reactors nationwide, announced Calvert Cliffs as the site for which it will file its first construction and operating license application with federal regulators.

It's a long process. Construction wouldn't begin until late 2010, at the earliest. That would give the new opposition group time to draw like-minded residents.

"As an organizer, I see a lot of energy out there," said one of the six, Johanna Neumann. "I'm looking forward to the fight."

Neumann, 27, is a policy advocate for Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit organization devoted to environmental, consumer protection and other issues. In March, it published "The High Cost of Nuclear Power: Why Maryland Can't Afford a New Reactor," a 28-page paper that can be found at

The not-so-subtle cover is a map, centered with a dot representing Calvert Cliffs. Concentric circles take in the Eastern Shore, the District and Baltimore, creating a sort of doomsday image of the effect should the reactor blow up. Inside, the paper makes points often raised by opponents: Nuclear power is expensive and draws government funds, plants are at risk of terrorist attacks and reactors produce radioactive spent fuel.

Members of the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition think that as utilities push a resurgence of nuclear power, residents will remember the accident at Chernobyl.

Bob Boxwell of Lusby was one of two Calvert residents at the Annapolis meeting. He lives eight miles from the reactor site and is an active member of the Southern Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.

Boxwell said the answer to global warming isn't nuclear power but rather conservation and the use of solar and wind energy. And he's certainly against building another big energy plant in Calvert.

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