The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was correct in dismissing a hearing request by a Washington advocacy group that opposed the license renewal of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Southern Maryland.
The NRC voted unanimously last month to extend the life of the Calvert Cliffs complex for another 20 years, making Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. the nation's first electric utility to win relicensing of its nuclear power plant.
In its decision yesterday, the court said the NRC properly denied the National Whistleblower Center's petition to intervene in the Calvert Cliffs relicensing because the group "failed to submit the required contentions within the prescribed deadline."
The National Whistleblower Center said it will appeal the court's decision.
"Nuclear safety was the big loser today," Stephen Kohn, an attorney for the Whistleblower Center, said in a statement yesterday.
"Under the new commission rules, the ability of citizens to challenge the NRC's current rush to re-license old nuclear power plants is completely undermined," Kohn said.
Utility officials, however, applauded the decision.
"We are pleased with this decision because it confirms that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license renewal process provides ample opportunity for public participation," Robert E. Denton, executive vice president of Constellation Energy Group, BGE's parent, said in a statement.
Yesterday's decision by a three-judge panel reverses a Nov. 12 decision by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Wald that favored the Whistleblower Center, ruling that the NRC's actions were improper.
However, after Wald retired within days of issuing the decision, the court vacated her ruling and ordered that the case be argued again.
Calvert Cliffs' operating licenses would have expired in 2014 for Unit 1, which began operating in 1974, and in 2016 for Unit 2, which began operating in 1976. The renewals extend the expiration dates to 2034 and 2036, respectively.
BGE filed its license renewal application with the NRC in April 1998.