Virginia Electric and Power Co's controversial nuclear power plant at North Anna, Va., was authorized yesterday to receive its operating license, ending a five-year battle between Vepco and a citizens group opposed to the plants construction.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, acknowledged in its 107-page ruling authorizing the license that Vepco has erred on several occasions during construction of the two units in Louisa County, 75 miles south-west of Washington.
The board added that Vepco had been responsive in correcting noncompliances and adopting (NRC) staff recommendations, that Vepco's performance had improved over the years, and that the noncompliances found have been neither so numerous nor so serious as to be cause for denying Vepco license to operate North Ann Units I and II," the ruling said.
June Allen, president of the North Anna Environmental Coalition, which was organized in January, 1973, to fight the two plants, noted the Dec. 13 date and said it was "appropriately symbolic for a license to issue on the 13th, and unlucky day for Virginians who will pap very high costs in both health and electric bills" because of the plant.
"It proves there is no limit to the defects the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is capable of licensing," she said.
Vepco says its customers pay less for electricity it produces with nuclear power than they do for electricity generated with coal or oil because nuclear fuel costs much lower. Critics of nuclear power contend that higher power plant construction costs, the costs of government regulation and research and the costs of disposing of spent fuel will in the long run make nuclear power more expensive than power produced by other fuels.
Stanley Ragone, executive vice president of Vepco, said in a statement he was "gratified" by the ruling and hoped for an early insurance of the actual operating license. The licensing board authorization is expected to be acted on shortly by the nuclear reactor regulation office of the NRC.
The North Anna I plant will undergo tests before beginning full operation, probably in February. North Anna II will begin operation in another year, Ragone said. The two units will add $934,000 kilowatts to Vepco's overall generating capacity, which serves about two-thirds of Virginia's population of $5 million.
Controversy over the plant has centered on allegations about problems with the materials used and the way they were assembled, the composition of the soil at the site and the location of a geological fault line under the facility. Faults are common sites of earthquakes.
"The board is satisfied that the issues raised by Mrs. Allen have received extraordinary attention," the decision said, and that thr questions "have been or are being resolved in a manner that provides reasonable assurances of the protection of the health and safety of the public."
"The key word there is 'are being'resolved." Allen responded. "So many things are in the future . . . the license shouldn't be issued until everything is resolved."
The three-member licensing board reviewed six broad categories of issues in reaching its decision and found in Vepco's favor on all of them. The company's commitment to safe operation and its technical capacity for guaranteeing it have improved over the years, the ruling said.
More qualified staff members have been hired at North Anna; major chances have been made in design, and repairs, where needed, have been satisfactory, the board ruled. "There is evidence that Vepco management has releid too much on its contractors to discharge their responsibility with a minimum of supervision by Vepco," the panel noted. "Extraordinary measures were required to bring unsatisfactory situations to the full attention of, and to obtain remedical action by, top management."
That situation has improved as well, the decision continued. It reviewed the debate over the unusual settling of some structures on the site and found the problem had been dealt with satisfactorily. The Geological fault, the judges said, was determined to be not active and the overall location "is an acceptable site."
Although there had been accidental release of radioactive material at the plant and it had been badly monitored, the situation had been investigated and "all releases were far below acceptable limits," the report concluded. Noting that Vepco had been fined for making "material false statements" about some of the problems at North Anna, the board wrote that it did not condone Vepco's act but did not find that they warranted denial of an operating license.