A Third Reactor at Calvert Nuclear Plant Would Hurt Air Quality, Residents Say

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Air quality in Calvert County would suffer if a third nuclear reactor is built at the Calvert Cliffs plant in Lusby, some local residents said this week during a public hearing.

Residents questioned the amount of emissions that would be produced by a third reactor's cooling tower and its backup diesel generators. They said they want UniStar Nuclear Energy, which wants to build the reactor, to use data from working plants rather than projected information about air quality. They also called for more state air monitoring near the plant.

The hearing, held Monday night in Solomons, was the last one scheduled for state regulatory agencies on UniStar's application to build a third reactor along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The company says the reactor would nearly double the plant's capacity as the need for electricity in the region grows.

Several state environmental and health agencies have agreed to issue permits to build the reactor. Federal regulatory authorities are reviewing the company's request. A state hearing Thursday in Solomons focused solely on air quality.

Julia Clark, with the Southern Maryland Citizens Alliance for Renewable Energy Solutions, or Southern Maryland CARES, said the project is "nothing but an environmental injustice."

She said that the plant emits 1,000 tons of particulate matter every year and that a third unit would put out an additional 300 tons a year. Clark and others suggested that the permit process be halted until air quality monitors are installed throughout the county and data are collected for three years.

But Robert Iwanchuk, an air quality expert hired by UniStar, said the plant emits 2.5 tons of particulate matter each year. Iwanchuk also said that 97 percent of the emissions from the plant's cooling tower "consists of sea salt that is evaporated from the bay."

He said the plant's potential emissions are "a very small fraction of the natural salt emissions that are now occurring from Chesapeake Bay airborne sea salt."

Calvert Cliffs monitors its air quality, but residents called for more rigorous state-regulated monitoring throughout the area. State and federal officials have said that Calvert's air quality has never triggered the need for such testing.

David Rogers, the county's health director, said there have been no studies directly examining the plant's effects on residents' health, but he said that cancer rates have declined in the county since it began operating in 1975.

"Many people do not want to believe there have been no ill health effects," he said.

But some residents were not swayed by the data.

"Calvert County is the worst place you can add another reactor, from a safety standpoint and a health standpoint," said June Sevilla, a Cove Point resident who is also a member of Southern Maryland CARES.

Norman Meadow, a representative of the Maryland Conservation Council and a former biochemist at Johns Hopkins University, said that to generate the amount of electricity the plant is trying to produce, nearly 2,000 wind turbines would be needed. He said that such renewable energy is experimental, uses more fossil fuels and is too expensive.

"Nuclear power has proven that it can deliver electricity safely, more reliably, more cheaply and with less environmental damage than any other technology," Meadow said.

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