Owner says Calvert Cliffs is safe in wake of Japan meltdown threat

Opponents say disaster highlights safety concerns

Constellation says plants are rated to withstand quakes

March 12, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The operator of Maryland's Calvert Cliffs twin reactors sought to reassure state residents that the facility remains safe, as Japan grapples with this weekend's explosion at a nuclear plant after an earthquake and tsunami.

Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for the Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, said the company's plants, including Calvert Cliffs, are designed to withstand any shock plants indicated by the seismic history of the geographic areas in which they're located.

Sullivan said company officials are closely monitoring the events at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

"CENG's highest passion and value is safety; nuclear safety, public safety, worker safety and environmental safety," Sullivan said. "As operators of nuclear power plants, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group's top priority is to ensure the health and safety of the public and our employees."

Industry critics said the Japanese disaster will raise safety concerns worldwide and perhaps bring to a halt the so-called "nuclear renaissance" — a resurgence of interest in reactor-generated energy spurred in part by high oil prices and concerns about climate change. French utility EDF Group is asking the state for help in developing a third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland.

"This was always a theoretical possibility. Now it's real," Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said during a conference call organized by nuclear opponents. "Having it explode — those can't be good things for an industry that's looking for votes in Congress and the state legislatures."

The NRC issued a statement saying that all U.S. nuclear power plants — including those near Baltimore — are built to withstand dangers including earthquakes and tsunamis.

"Even those plants that are located outside of areas with extensive seismic activity are designed for safety in the event of such a natural disaster. The NRC requires that safety-significant structures, systems, and components be designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically estimated for the site and surrounding area," the NRC said.

Ira Helfand, a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility who also joined the phone conference with Bradford, called nuclear plants "weapons of mass destruction we build ourselves and site next to our cities." His group opposes nuclear power, citing safety, cost and pollution concerns.

Helfand said the questions could extend to nuclear plants that are not located in areas with a history of major earthquakes — including Maryland's Calvert Cliffs plant and Pennsylvania's Peach Bottom plant just across the state line from Harford County.

Sullivan said the Constellation group is holding discussions with industry leaders including other nuclear utilities, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Electric Power Research Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and World Association of Nuclear Power Operations.

"We also have emergency response plans in place which are approved at the federal, state and local government agencies," Sullivan said. "The plans have detailed procedures which are routinely reviewed and used in training of our personnel. We have routine training exercises to test our ability to effectively implement our plan and are formally evaluated by the NRC."

Sullivan noted that Calvert Cliffs Unit 2 is now in a planned refueling and maintenance outage.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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