Renewal of nuclear plant's license opposed Calvert Cliffs first in nation to apply

August 20, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

In a petition filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a national watchdog group is seeking to block renewal of an operating license for Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

The Lusby plant, which is operated by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., in April became the first nuclear plant in the country to apply for renewal of its 40-year license. Any potential challenges might set precedents, and all aspects of the process are being closely watched in the industry.

Under an order signed by the NRC yesterday, a panel must decide within 90 days whether the National Whistleblower Center, which filed its petition Aug. 7, qualifies to intervene in the renewal.

The group's petition did not detail its concerns, except to claim that Calvert Cliffs cannot safely operate another 20 years beyond its current license.

"Our contention is that the plant has exceeded safe operation and is going to need additional safeguards to protect the public, if it can ever be shown to operate safely," said Michael Kohn, attorney for the group. Kohn said details of those concerns will be presented to the panel in the next few weeks.

By 2015, about 40 percent of the 118 nuclear power plants in the United States are expected to file to either extend their licenses or cease operating.

Because Calvert Cliffs is the first to go through the license renewal process, it will establish the framework for future challenges of other plants, Kohn said.

Any person or group that qualifies to "intervene" in such a process becomes a party to it with power to inspect facilities and depose witnesses during the hearings. The NRC estimates that the entire license renewal process will take about 30 months.

Calvert Cliffs, which was licensed in 1974, provides a quarter of the electricity in Maryland.

Although it is not generally considered a problem plant, the Calvert County facility has had its difficulties. The plant's two reactors were forced to close because of a leak for an extended period between 1989 and 1991. In 1996, the national consumer group Public Citizen listed the two Calvert Cliffs reactors among the worst in the nation in their ability to provide emergency cooling to the reactor cores.

"Public participation certainly is not a surprise and a request for intervention was expected," said Karl Neddenien of BGE. "Their contentions are extremely broad."

Neddenien said the utility is preparing a formal response and plans to file it with the NRC by the end of the week.

In its order, NRC commissioners wrote yesterday that despite the expedited schedule it was setting, they did not expect to "sacrifice fairness and sound decision-making."

"Setting forth a schedule before the scope of the proceedings is known is something inconsistent with due process," Kohn said.

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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