Foes of Nuclear Expansion Find Few Allies

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

In a Maryland county where politicians roll out tax breaks for nuclear power expansion and residents feel so good about their existing plant that some fish next to the place, Bob Boxwell knows he's fighting an uphill battle.

The longtime environmentalist is among a tiny group of Calvert County residents known to be making a concerted effort to stop a proposed reactor at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby. The reactor would be Calvert Cliffs' third and could become the first project of its kind in the United States in about 30 years, underscoring the nation's renewed interest in nuclear power.

In Calvert, only a handful of residents are part of a small e-mail distribution list of people opposed to the expansion, according to Boxwell. Three months ago, when a half-dozen opponents of plant expansion met in Annapolis, only two were from Calvert, including Boxwell.

Their numbers, of course, could swell if the prospect of a new reactor increases. Three weeks ago, Constellation Energy Group of Baltimore filed a partial application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, asking it to review environmental plans for a 1,600-megawatt reactor that could cost $4 billion.

As of now, the limited number of expansion opponents says a lot about the strength of supporters. A public meeting on the project is scheduled for Aug. 14 at a Holiday Inn Select in Solomons.

"We will be there, and absolutely we support the expansion," said Danita Boonchaisri, a marketing and communications specialist at the Calvert County Department of Economic Development.

Wilson H. Parran (D-At Large), president of the Calvert Board of County Commissioners, said in an interview yesterday that the plant has a sterling safety record. He noted that existing reactors have received licenses to operate into the 2030s: "You don't do that if you're not safe."

Parran, who plans to speak at the Aug. 14 meeting, said he will summarize a letter the five-member commission is expected to write in support of the expansion.

All five commission members appear to support the expansion. The newest member, Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large), predicts unanimous endorsement. Nuclear power, she said, could be an answer to global warming. "I concern myself with trying to get other, greener ways of producing electricity," she said.

Outside of politicians, many residents also support the plant. They cite its reputation as a large taxpayer, a safe place to work, even a place that offers good fishing just off its banks. This year, Calvert Cliffs is expected to pay the county about $16 million in taxes, an estimated 8 percent of Calvert's tax revenue.

Attention to those tax dollars is one of Boxwell's concerns.

"I just think they're looking at the economics of it, which is all the county has ever looked at it when it comes to this plant," he said.

Calvert residents have lulled themselves into a false sense of safety, Boxwell said. If the plant expands, he said, Calvert Cliffs will have to store more spent fuel, which will render it that much more vulnerable to a terrorist attack or a catastrophic accident.

"It would be difficult to get out of this end of the world," said Boxwell, who lives in Lusby, about seven miles from the plant. He said he'd have only two options: going south, across a bridge to St. Mary's County, or heading north, which would take him by the plant.

Others echoed that concern.

Norma Powers pointed out that the bridge heading to St. Mary's is only two lanes.

"That's not going to be possible," she said of trying to cross in the event of an emergency. "Everyone else is going to be going across the bridge."

She said opposition to plant expansion is limited to "little factions here and there." But those groups could come together, once word spreads, to form a bigger core group to speak out against the plans.

"I would suggest that we could probably get 50 or 60 people together," Powers said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company