By VARUN SAXENA
WASHINGTON (January 15, 2012)—Maryland moved a step closer this week to commissioning the nation's first new nuclear reactor since 1974, but there is still a long road ahead before any construction begins.
The Board of Public Works voted unanimously to grant UniStar Nuclear Energy LLC the wetlands permit that it needs to build a proposed third nuclear reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Lusby.
UniStar released a statement after the BPW vote saying, "This is an important milestone in our development of the Calvert Cliffs 3 project. As we have consistently indicated, a number of different factors need to align before a project of the scope of Calvert Cliffs 3 is brought to fruition, including, most notably, the realization of a regulatory framework within the State of Maryland and receipt of a Department of Energy loan guarantee."
UniStar, a subsidiary of the French energy company EDF, also needs to find an American-owned partner company to meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations because Baltimore-based utility company Constellation Energy pulled out of the joint venture in 2010.
Constellation Energy left the partnership largely due to the joint venture's inability to agree to the terms of a loan guarantee with the federal government, according to an October 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal.
"As EDF has repeatedly stated, UniStar intends to obtain a U.S. partner" before license approval, said UniStar spokeswoman Laura Eifler.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an independent body within the NRC, will hold public comment sessions on the third nuclear reactor in the afternoon and evening Jan. 25 at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons.
A legal hearing will be conducted by the ASLB Jan. 26 in Prince Frederick on a challenge from four anti-nuclear groups to UniStar's application for the third reactor, according to an NRC press release.
"The challenge alleges the NRC staff's draft environmental impact statement failed to adequately analyze and discuss alternatives to the proposed reactor," the release said. The challenge cites wind and solar energy as alternatives.
Michael Mariotte, executive director of the anti-nuclear group Nuclear Information Resource Service, will testify at the hearing.
A ruling is expected in the spring, Mariotte said.
If the three-judge panel rules in Mariotte's favor, the NRC will have to rewrite its environmental impact statement and reconsider whether the third reactor is "environmentally preferable" to wind and solar energy alternatives.
A decision in favor of the anti-nuclear groups would "not necessarily be a deathblow" to the proposed reactor, or delay construction because UniStar has a lot of other obstacles to overcome, including the need to find an American partner, Mariotte said.
"It is disappointing that Maryland continues to perpetuate the fiction that this reactor will ever be built," Mariotte said.
UniStar has been attempting to build a third reactor since 2007.