Worries heard at nuclear plant's relicensing hearing Environmentalists say BGE's Calvert Cliffs has safety problems


July 10, 1998|By Kevin McQuaid | Kevin McQuaid,SUN STAFF

SOLOMONS -- Federal regulators kicked off public hearings yesterday on Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s plan to extend the license on its Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, amid protests from environmentalists and residents.

The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club and other groups opposed to BGE's proposal contended that the plant in Lusby poses potential environmental and safety problems and should be forced to shut down when its license to operate expires early in the next century.

"What we have here is an aging plant, and with it the increased likelihood that an accident will occur that should concern all Marylanders," said Glen Besa, a Sierra Club regional representative.

Other opponents, including Public Citizen, complained that radioactive waste is stored at Calvert Cliffs and that not enough information is available about aging nuclear plants.

BGE and plant proponents countered that Calvert Cliffs is safe and reliable, and it benefits Calvert County's economy.

"The light we need at night, the heat we enjoy during cold, wintry storms, the music our children listen to and the industrial muscle that makes Maryland a strong state -- these are some of the fibers of the world around us that Calvert Cliffs has contributed to," said Barth W. Doroshuk, a BGE executive in charge of the relicensing effort.

The midday hearing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission marked the first time the public has had an opportunity to comment on the future of the Calvert Cliffs plant.

The hearing, which was held at a Solomons Holiday Inn, was attended by about 100 activists and others. It marked the first time they have been able to express opinions on any nuclear plant's relicensing. Twenty people spoke.

In April, BGE became the first nuclear plant owner in the nation to seek an extension of its original 40-year NRC license, a filing that has focused the spotlight on the regulatory process, Calvert Cliffs and the future of nuclear power in the United States.

It is expected that by 2015, roughly 40 percent of the nation's 118 nuclear plants will have filed to extend their operating licenses or cease operations, according to the NRC. Nuclear plants produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity, said Claudia Craig, an NRC environmental manager.

Although many opponents said they are generally opposed to nuclear power, most focused on the NRC's review process.

"This is a charade. This is a farce," said Jim Riccio, an attorney with Public Citizen. "The industry would not have come forward if it didn't feel almost guaranteed it could get license renewals."

The NRC, which will evaluate Calvert Cliffs on 92 criteria, is expected to issue an environmental impact statement on the plant in November 1999. The entire license review is scheduled to take up to five years.

BGE, which hopes to extend its Calvert Cliffs license for 20 years, is spending $500 million to upgrade the plant on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

At the same time, BGE has asked state regulators to grant it $911 million in "stranded costs" arising from Maryland's plan to deregulate its electric generation system by July 2002.

Since the nuclear plant began operations in the mid-1970s, BGE says, it has saved ratepayers $5 billion in fuel costs. The plant accounts for a quarter of the electricity in the state.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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