A group of citizens filed a request on Monday to halt the combined license application (COLA) for two additional nuclear reactors at Comanche Peak in Somervell County.
Austin attorney Robert Eye represents the petitioners, Representative Lon Burnam (District 90), Nita O’Neal with the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Don Young with Public Citizen and J. Nile Fisher with the True Cost of Nukes.
At a press conference Wednesday, the requestors cited six issues with the COLA that the group felt warranted a second look by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
“In order to license a new nuclear plant, an applicant has to apply for a COLA,” Eye said.
NRC announced an official review schedule for the license application in March. Based on the schedule, the NRC will complete the review required to issue Comanche Peak COL by December 2011. It is projected that a license would be issued roughly one year later, following NRC certification of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI) US-Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (US-APWR) power plant design.
Luminant selected the US-APWR as its technology of choice in March 2007, following an extensive evaluation of prospective nuclear generating technologies. MHI submitted an application to have the US-APWR design certified by the NRC in December 2007. Eye said it would not be approved until September 2011 at the soonest.
Eye said his clients believe the COLA should be held until the design is approved.
“I think they (Luminant) need to pull their application back and rework it,” Eye said.
Ashley Monts, a representative for Luminant, said the company is confident in their design choice.
“Mitsubishi submitted several technical reports to the NRC with respect to flow-induced vibration characteristics for US-APWR to the NRC,” Monts said. “The conclusion of those reports was that there are no flow-induced vibration concerns/issues with the US-APWR design. The reports are based on actual test data and are all referenced in Mitsubishi’s Design Certification Application.”
Eye, who has handled nuclear power related cases since the 1980s, pointed out other issues his clients had with the application.
One issue is Luminant’s application plans to store spent fuel waste in Nevada.
“A month or so ago, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said very candidly that Yucca Mountain (Nevada) is not going to be used,” Eye said.
Even if the mountain is opened up, Eye said it would be limited to 73,000 metric tons of spent commercial nuclear waste and would reach capacity before units three or four even went online.
“Comanche Peak currently stores used fuel in a spent-fuel pool. Federal law required the U.S. Department of Energy to begin moving used fuel from existing plants in 1998, but it has not yet begun to do so,” Montes said. “It is important to note that the NRC has determined that used fuel can be stored safely at power plant sites for at least 100 years. Diligent monitoring ensures that public health and safety are protected.”
She added the plant could use a dry-cask storage system that is used by other nuclear plants.
Eye said his clients are also concerned about a paragraph on page 5.11-3 of the environmental report that states, “SCR (Squaw Creek Reservoir) is the only radiological impact outside of the power plant itself that is being cumulatively impacted by each passing year of operational activities.”
The report goes on to say the reservoir would be effected by the continued use of units one and two as well as the new reactors.
“Radioactive particulate matter that is permitted and released to SCR in liquid effluents is deposited onto the sediment layer of the reservoir bottom, particularly in the area of the circulating water discharge release point,” the report states. “[T]he particulates have no removal mechanism other than radioactive decay.”
Eye said if the particles remain in the sediment, then perhaps no damage would be done. But if the dam breaks or the reservoir dries out and the particles become airborne, then millions of people are at risk.
“A particle of plutonium, dust size, is a guarantee of lung cancer at some time,” Eye said. “We’re betting here, at Comanche Peak, that the sediment layer will always be underwater and stable.”
The complaint also states Luminant has not explored other renewable sources of energy adequately; has not planed for 9/11 style attacks or explosions; and has not calculated the impact of increased water demand.
“They need to assure the public that they have a plan,” Eye said.
“We are following the same NRC licensing process that everyone else in the nation uses. This involves a detailed, 42-month NRC review process to assess the company’s application,” Monts said. “Safety is our first priority and we have strong track record of safely operating our existing plant.”
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has notified Comanche Peak that the expansion project has significant merit and is still under consideration for a loan guarantee. Luminant and MHI will seek official support for financing from the U.S. and Japanese governments.
The license application proposes expanding the existing Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant to include Units 3 and 4, each of which will be capable of producing 1,700 megawatts, or enough nuclear energy to power almost 875,000 average Texas homes. A COLA was submitted to the NRC in September 2008 and the agency accepted the application for review in December 2008.