Proposed Calvert Reactor Draws Fire

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

Maryland PIRG, a consumer advocacy and environmental group that once depicted Lusby on the cover of a report as ground zero for a nuclear catastrophe, has intervened in the state regulatory process that will help determine whether construction of a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant will be approved.

The group has been among the few critics, statewide or local, to surface over the reactor proposal, which has strong support among Calvert County residents and government officials.

The two reactors at Calvert Cliffs have produced nuclear power without serious incident for 30 years. That record has convinced many residents, scientists and politicians that the plant is safe. The plant is also a source of many jobs and substantial county tax revenue.

Maryland PIRG's intervention means it will try to stop the Maryland Public Service Commission from approving the reactor's construction. The owner of Calvert Cliffs, Constellation Energy, recently applied for a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" from the commission.

On Friday, the commission met at the Prince Frederick Library to discuss the application. Although the session was largely procedural, about 55 people attended. Commission regulators will study the proposed reactor's environmental impact, the need for additional electricity generating capacity and other issues, a process that could take a year or longer.

Although it has initiated the commission process and begun filing an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Constellation Energy has not made a final decision to build the reactor, which would cost at least $4 billion.

In the federal regulatory process, Constellation officials have said the company expects to complete its NRC filings by March. The state and federal applications require the assembly and filing of massive documents.

In the state commission application, Constellation said the third reactor's design incorporates decades of research. It can use different types of fuel, including low-enriched uranium and mixed oxide, and can accommodate recycled fuel, according to Constellation. If constructed, the reactor would have a generation output of approximately 1,600 megawatts, nearly equaling the generating capacity of the two older reactors at Calvert Cliffs.

The reactor also would integrate "major safety innovations," according to Constellation. It would use four independent safety systems, a leak-tight containment structure around the reactor, a passive emergency post-accident debris collection area and a two-layer outer shell made of reinforced concrete.

"In sum," Constellation wrote in its application, "the U.S. [Evolutionary Power Reactor] is designed to achieve safety, reliability and efficiency standards superior to those of any of its predecessors."

Maryland PIRG probably will challenge such statements. In a March report, "The High Cost of Nuclear Power," the group asserted that an accident or terrorist strike could release radioactive material.

The public interest group said nuclear waste would have to be stored at the site, at least initially. If a proposed federal nuclear waste site is constructed in Nevada, nuclear waste would be transported through Maryland on trucks or rail cars, potentially exposing thousands of people to radiation in an accident.

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