UniStar says Calvert Cliffs nuclear plan would ensure U.S. control

December 08, 2010|By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun

UniStar Nuclear Energy on Wednesday told federal regulators it has implemented a plan that includes putting American citizens in key corporate positions to ensure U.S. control over the proposed third reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland.

Unistar, owned by French energy company EDF, made the pledge to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as it is seeking a license to own and operate the plant. Unistar executives requested the meeting with the NRC a month after EDF took full ownership of a nuclear-development joint venture from Baltimore's Constellation Energy Group.

Federal law prohibits ownership or control of a U.S. nuclear plant by a foreign entity.

Unistar also will be "looking to bring in a U.S. partner" for the project, Unistar Chairman Steven Wolfram told NRC staff members. Asked when Unistar would find an American partner, Wolfram said after the meeting that "it's very open-ended."

EDF and Constellation had formed UniStar to develop new nuclear plants in the United States, including the third unit at Calvert Cliffs. But Constellation pulled out of negotiations in October with the Department of Energy over a federal loan guarantee considered crucial for financing the $9.6 billion reactor, throwing the project into doubt.

By selling its half-stake in Unistar, Constellation abandoned that business, leaving EDF to pursue Calvert Cliffs 3 on its own. While EDF said it is committed to developing new nuclear plants in the United States, it faces several challenges, including the issue of foreign control.

Executives of Unistar, also based in Baltimore, outlined Wednesday a plan that they said would negate concerns over foreign ownership and control of Calvert Cliffs 3. Even without a current U.S. partner, Unistar officials told the NRC staff that its plan ensures U.S. control over the proposed Calvert Cliffs project.

Unistar officials highlighted the company's governance structure, which calls for two independent U.S. citizens on the eight-member board of directors as well as a chairman and a chief executive who both must be U.S. citizens.

Moreover, the company has set up a security subcommittee of the board composed of the chairman and the two independent U.S. citizens, Unistar executives said. The subcommittee has the authority for any decisions related to nuclear safety, security and reliability issues, Unistar executives said.

"We recognize that compliance with U.S. law regarding foreign ownership is not only an obligation as an applicant but as a licensee," said George Vanderheyden, Unistar's president and chief executive officer. "It's our responsibility to ensure that the NRC is comfortable with the actions we've taken."

Vanderheyden said another nuclear advisory committee of independent U.S. citizens would provide additional assurance of U.S. control. Unistar officials also noted that the commission has not determined a specific threshold for the percentage of foreign ownership.

But not everyone was convinced.

"It doesn't pass the laugh test," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information Resource Service, a group that opposes nuclear development in the United States. The group is an intervening party in Unistar's license application process for Calvert Cliffs 3.

"They're trying to convince the NRC to reinterpret the law to allow for 100 percent ownership," Mariotte added. "What they're proposing is not going to fly."

NRC's staff could issue its findings on the foreign ownership question next fall, and then the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hold a hearing on the issue before making its decision.

A final decision on the license for Calvert Cliffs 3 is not expected to be made until at least mid-2012.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

twitter.com/hanahcho

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