According to a recent article in The State titled Groups gain ground in nuclear plant fight, two anti-nuclear groups have claimed victory in a recent appeal to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of previous decisions by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB). As is often the case in claims by people who adhere to the deceptive practice of “declare victory and move on”, there is only a grain of truth in the claim. A careful reading of the admittedly dry and legalistic decision statement by the NRC shows that the NRC made seven distinct decisions in the appeal. Only one out of the seven was clearly in favor of the project opposition.
The Sierra Club and The Friends of the Earth are fighting to slow down and increase the cost of the process of licensing and building two additional units at the VC Summer Nuclear Power Station near Jenkinsville, South Carolina. The joint applicants for the project are SCE&G (South Carolina Electric and Gas) and South Carolina Public Service Company (aka Santee Cooper). The partnership submitted its Construction and Operating License (COL) application to the NRC in March 2008. The next step in the lengthy process of obtaining that license is the issuance of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Aside: That act requires all federal agencies to issue an Environmental Impact Statement for all major federal actions; approval of a license to build a large nuclear generating station is considered a “major federal action”. End Aside.
Here are the specific questions that the NRC ruling had to answer:
- Should the Friends of the Earth have “standing” in the case?
- Can the review of the COL continue even though it references the AP-1000, which has not yet been fully certified in its most recent revision?
- Has the COL applicant adequately addressed the potential effects of a accidental or deliberate aircraft impact?
- The NRC response further split this question into two separate parts
- The anti-nuclear groups filed seven discrete challenges that the NRC decided were “too diffuse and difficult to follow” to address individually. The Commission split them into three broad categories.
- Need for power
- Energy alternatives
- Costs and schedule
That means that there are four challenges with two of those challenges split into two or three parts for a total of seven specific decisions. Here is the score:
- Standing – Appeal Sustained. – Friends of the Earth does have standing because two of the affected people who filed their challenges in a timely manner mentioned that they were members of the group. Unlike the ASLB, the NRC allowed them to amend their filed challenges to explicitly state that FOE could represent their interests in hearings.
- Can the COL review continue even though it references a design that is not fully certified? Appeal Rejected. There is no requirement for the design certification to be complete before COL reviews can progress.
- Safety and Environmental effects of aircraft impact?
- Safety – Appeal Rejected.
- Environmental – Appeal Rejected.
Application adequate addresses the aircraft impact safety rule by referencing a plant design that will have to meet the certification requirements. The majority of the Commission explicitly affirmed earlier rulings that the applicant does not have to address the environmental impact of a terrorist attack under NEPA. Chairman Jazko dissented, but his vote is just one of three.
- Need for power – Appeal Rejected
- Energy alternatives – Appeal Remanded. The NRC asked the ASLB to reevaluate the application’s analysis of demand side management (DSM). The ASLB had initially ruled that conservation is not a valid alternative to baseload power generation, but the NRC indicated that the referenced ruling only applies to a merchant generator, not a monopoly utility serving a defined territory.
- Cost and schedule – Appeal Remanded. Because the NRC has asked the ASLB to reevaluate the possibility that demand side management can be an alternative to the 2,000 + MWe of baseload power represented by the two new units, the Commission also asked the ASLB to use their finding on that issue to determine if DSM represents a lower cost alternative that has a reduced environmental impact. All of the other mentioned alternatives in the appeal by the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Earth had already been rejected in the review as not being adequate alternatives for a stated purpose of producing baseload electricity.
I count that as:Anti-nuclear groups – 1Nuclear project applicants – 4with two areas still under review.
I find it difficult to imagine that a technically competent team would conclude that it is possible to avoid the need for 2,000 MW of electricity in a service territory with a relatively small but growing customer base through “demand side management” techniques of turning off air conditioners and pool pumps during the heat of the day. I am pretty sure that those last two contentions will also be decided in favor of the nuclear plant applicants.
Despite the tone of the headline and the victory statements issued by the groups that would like the NRC to deny permission to build new emission free generating capacity in South Carolina, the most accurate assessment of the ruling came from Eric Boomhower, spokesman for SCE&G, “This decision really changes nothing beyond adding another name to the list of official parties.”