Saturday, December 29, 2007
Opposition stirring against new reactors
Dec. 28, 2007
Coalition plans to fight project in Matagorda County
Texas anti-nuclear activists are rallying their forces to challenge the so-called nuclear renaissance that could see the state become home to the country's first new nuclear power plant project in nearly 30 years.
On Friday a coalition of groups said it will intervene in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review of NRG Energy's application to build two new reactors in Matagorda County, next to the existing South Texas Project nuclear plant.
The commission filed notice this week that a 60-day public comment period is now open for groups to intervene in the review for the joint construction and operation permit.
Austin-based officials with the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition said they don't yet know if they will intervene in the review separately or under one name. But they don't plan on sitting on their hands.
"We need to draw a line in the sand here in Texas and create a new nuclear resistance movement to say no to the nuclear regurgitation," said Karen Hadden, director of SEED.
Princeton, N.J.-based NRG, which already owns a 44 percent stake in the two existing reactors, filed the application in September.
CPS Energy, San Antonio's public utility, owns 40 percent of the existing project and said it plans to participate in the new one. Austin Energy, which owns 16 percent of STP, has not yet decided if it will take part in the new project.
Several other companies have expressed interest in either expanding existing plants around the country or building new facilities. Dallas-based Luminant, a part of the former TXU Corp., said it may expand its Comanche Peak nuclear plant in North Texas, while Chicago-based Exelon said it may file an application for a plant near Victoria.
NRG spokesman David Knox said building new nuclear plants like the one his company is planning will be major steps toward battling global warming.
"Nuclear is clean, safe and secure and will be critical to help meet rising electrical demand without contributing to global climate change," Knox said.
The environmental groups are challenging the project on several fronts in addition to the long-standing complaints about the dangers of storing nuclear waste indefinitely and the role it may play in nuclear weapons proliferation.
The groups point to the industry's last round of construction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when projects regularly ran over budget and schedule, as proof new projects will also be costly.
They also criticize the industry's reliance on government incentives and subsidies — including $2 billion in risk insurance, billions in construction loan guarantees and a production tax credit for power generated in the first eight years of a project.
The groups also raise security and equipment safety issues. South Texas was the subject of a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2006, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group, that alleged there were problems such as security guards failing to properly search vehicles and broken surveillance cameras and radio equipment.
Officials with the plant have told the Chronicle they had addressed the concerns raised in the report.
Neil Carman, director of the clean air program for the Sierra Club in Texas, said the state's environmental community hasn't addressed nuclear energy for many years. In Texas organizers spent a lot of time and effort in the past two years fighting TXU's plans to build nearly a dozen new coal-fired power plants.
"But it's been quite amazing to see a lot of people coming out of the woodwork and wanting to work on this," Carman said. "I think you will see a very strong anti-nuclear movement in Texas."