Nuclear Naysayers Hope Constellation Sale Slows Planned Calvert Reactor


WASHINGTON (Sept. 25, 2008)—Some Maryland environmental activists say the planned sale of Constellation Energy Group Inc. and the related Wall Street financial crisis should stall the expansion of a proposed nuclear power plant in Lusby.

Constellation, which Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. agreed to buy last Thursday for about $4.7 billion, owns the 33-year-old, two-reactor Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Calvert County. In July 2007, Constellation submitted an application to build a third unit at the facility, prompting resistance from some residents who say Maryland needs less costly energy sources.

The national economic situation, the sale of Constellation and the government loans the company will require to build the third reactor should give federal agencies pause in approving the project, environmental groups opposed to the new reactor's construction said.

"We hate to see both the county and the state putting money into an energy source that's going to be ultimately very expensive," said Frank Fox, chairman of the Sierra Club's Southern Maryland Group. "I think (the sale) is going to damage their case for being responsible managers of the funds."

Cost estimates for the third reactor have ranged from more than $7 billion to just under $10 billion.

Tyson Slocum, energy program director for the nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen, said Constellation's plans should be slowed in light of Thursday's massive, federal bailout package for the financial system.

"Especially in light of what will probably be a trillion dollars in loans that essentially will be guaranteed by the American people, we really cannot afford to put together yet another loan guarantee program for another industry that's pursuing industries that they cannot finance themselves," Slocum said.

But Constellation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing Constellation's application for the third unit, maintained that plans would not change following a MidAmerican takeover.

"What was true last week is still true this week," said Maureen Brown, a Constellation spokeswoman. "We are proceeding with both the proposed reactor in Southern Maryland as well as (one) in upstate New York. . . . The Maryland Public Service Commission had three public hearings in August and the support was overwhelming."

Brown said the planned reactor would generate enough electricity to power more than a million homes in Maryland.

By state law, MidAmerican would have to apply to have the license for the third reactor transferred, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman said.

"We want to ensure the new owner has the financial wherewithal to properly operate an existing plant as well as any new plants," spokesman Neil Sheehan said. "It will not necessarily take longer (for the application to be approved) because as the review is continuing of the new reactor application, we could be reviewing the license transfer application."

Though the additional reactor would likely not be ready until 2016, environmentalists said they worry plans for the plant's expansion, even under new ownership, would distract the state from researching alternative power sources.

"We have to ask, 'How can we be using wind and solar?'" said Brenda Afzal, director of Health Programs at the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. "I think those issues have not yet been addressed in an open and public way. We already have a problem in Maryland with coal-burning plants. We don't need (more pollution)."

Nuclear plants don't release carbon dioxide, as fossil fuel facilities do, but they do generate radioactive nuclear waste, a product which is stringently regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Constellation keeps its Calvert Cliffs waste on-site, Brown said, in steel-reinforced concrete canisters and vaults of water.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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