Nuclear Plant Critics Fret Over Bridge

About 27,000 vehicles cross the Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge in Calvert County every day, and it has been ranked as
About 27,000 vehicles cross the Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge in Calvert County every day, and it has been ranked as "failing" during rush hour. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007

Opponents of a proposed third nuclear reactor in Calvert County are drawing attention to a concern that might sound familiar to Calvert's frustrated commuters: how to get off the southern tip of the peninsula-shaped county.

Primarily at issue is the crowded, skinny, two-lane Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge and whether it could accommodate the thousands of motorists who might flee in the event of a nuclear catastrophe.

An estimated 27,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, drawn in large part by the jobs magnet of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County. The Maryland State Highway Administration, which ranks the area around the bridge as "failing" during rush hour, is studying whether to build a wider bridge, but a new structure is at least six years away by the most optimistic predictions.

County resident Bob Boxwell, a critic of the proposed reactor, said yesterday that the bridge is the only route south off the peninsula. One main road heads north. "It might as well be called the Expect Delays Bridge, because that's what it's been lately," he said at a news conference held nearby to call attention to evacuation concerns.

Boxwell and other critics are less concerned about regular delays than about doomsday scenarios, such as having to flee Calvert in the event of a meltdown or terrorist strike in Lusby, where the proposed reactor would be built next to the two-reactor Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

Officials with the county and Constellation Energy, operator of the Calvert Cliffs plant, said yesterday that the current evacuation plan is safe and that the chance of a meltdown is remote.

"The nuclear industry is arguably the safest regulated industry in America," said Robert L. Gould, a Constellation spokesman.

Constellation has filed a partial application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the reactor. Gould said that any concerns about evacuations related to the new reactor will be examined during the commission's evaluation process.

General evacuation procedures are on the county's Web site, but specifics are not publicly known. County officials would not provide details, saying that public disclosure might aid a terrorist group.

Opponents of the proposed reactor also said they are worried that the road heading north, Route 4, would quickly become clogged during an evacuation. The Calvert Cliffs plant is on the county's southeastern coast. Critics also said the county should have a backup siren system.

Opposition to nuclear power plants does not appear to be widespread in Calvert, where Calvert Cliffs has provided jobs and generally been viewed as safe. The news conference yesterday, organized in part by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, was attended by about a dozen people. Of the six people who spoke, only two were from Calvert.

Calvert, a slim jurisdiction southeast of Washington, is Maryland's smallest county by area. It is bordered to the east by the Chesapeake Bay and to the west by Patuxent River.

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