On Monday, August 4, 2008 I joined a large and generally supportive crowd attending the first of three evening public hearings on the matter of Unistar Nuclear, LLC’s application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to construct a third nuclear power plant at the Calvert Cliff’s site in Lusby, Calvert County Maryland.
I did not do a head count, but would guess that there were well over one hundred people in room at the peak attendance of the evening. At least 30 people signed up to speak, many of whom represented county commissions, city governments, chambers of commerce, business associations, ministerial associations, law enforcement organizations, and community organizations. A number of people spoke as concerned or knowledgeable individuals who lived near the plant, worked at the plant, or had a general interest in the plant’s construction.
The hearing started at 7:00 pm, there were a few introductory remarks by the hearing officer and by representatives of Unistar Nuclear. The public comment portion of the evening began at about 7:20 and the first voice in opposition to the plant started speaking at 8:35 pm. I happened to be sitting right in front of that gentleman and overheard several whispered comments during the first hour and fifteen minutes of sometimes impassioned statements of support for the facility. The one that stuck in my mind was “they sure have them lined up”, implying that there was some kind of organized effort to show support.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with people who support a project like a new nuclear power plant to get together and plan a response, but it was pretty obvious that at least some of the people who were speaking were there as individuals. I know I was.
The first person who spoke in opposition expressed two concerns – he wondered about the evacuation plan and about the long term storage of used nuclear fuel. The plant will be built on a peninsula that has one major public artery for traffic and a portion of the local population would also have to cross an easily congested bridge to leave the area. His main point about the used fuel storage is that it has a long half life.
The next person who spoke in opposition read a laundry list of statistics about Calvert County and its economic and population growth during the period since the early 1970s when units 1 and 2 were constructed. She focused on the fact that the county population had increased from 16,000 then to more than 88,000 now and that there were now about a dozen public schools where there were only two. She talked about the retirement homes, the tourist population, and the hospitals and stated that it would be a huge mess if the need ever arose to evacuate. She also stated that she had lived in the area for about 12 years.
That meant, of course, that she chose to move into an area hosting two nuclear power plants and an LNG terminal. I will give her the benefit of the doubt; it is possible for someone to visit Southern Maryland, fall in love with the area and never realize that those facilities exist – you have to actually look for them or ask about them.
I found her commentary to be an interesting contrast with that of several of the lifelong residents who mentioned that Calvert County had been one of the poorest counties in Maryland before units 1 and 2 were built and who appreciated the opportunity to live and raise their families in a county with improving schools, organized sports, and reliable, long term employment.
As any nuclear politics junkie would expect, Paul Gunter showed up and talked. He provided some testimony that confused the hearing officer because he spoke about not saddling ratepayer with the economic risk posed by the plant and he pointed to the first of a kind difficulties that the EPR has been experiencing at Olkiluoto in Finland. He also claimed that the EPR under construction in France – Flamanville 3 was experiencing similar cost and schedule overruns. He put a lot of faith into Moody’s investment commentary and claimed that the numbers indicated that Calvert Cliffs unit III could cost more than $11 billion and cost ratepayers for a very long time.
The hearing officer listened carefully to the long talk and then asked Mr. Gunter if all that meant that he supported the commission’s decision from more than a decade ago to deregulate power prices and put the cost risk onto the company constructing the plant. Gunter went back up to the microphone and said that just put the risk back onto the taxpayers because the company would be allowed to write off all of the excess costs. If you understand what he meant or how that is different from any other construction project of similar scale, please explain.
I stuck it out to almost the very last speaker, but kept looking at my watch as one of the last speakers who introduced herself as a “chemical engineer” rambled on and on about the “effluents” from the LNG terminal near the plant – which seemed far enough off topic that I wish that the hearing officer had intervened. I finally gave up and departed when the second to last scheduled speaker tried to engage the hearing officer in a debate about a Scientific American article about a Grand Solar plan, that he claimed indicated that there was no need for the plant.
As I drove back to Annapolis in the late evening hours, I thought about what life would be like in Maryland if that man’s solar plan was chosen instead of building a reliable, 24 x 7, emissions free nuclear plant. I wondered just how long it would take for people like him to realize that power output at night is zero and that the sun sets with great reliability and predictability every single day.