Challenge to nuclear plant advances
By Fred Hiers
Progress Energy’s road to building its proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County northwest of Dunnellon is becoming anything but smooth.
On Wednesday, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board – an arm of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission – ruled that the Green Party of Florida and two other environmental groups could challenge the utility company’s plan for two new nuclear reactors and had successfully raised major concerns about the plant’s potential environmental impact.
That means Progress Energy will have to argue its case about those environmental issues during a legal hearing, including in oral arguments, or change some of its construction plans.
"It’s a small victory, but a victory nonetheless," said Michael Canney of the Green Party of Florida. "We feel there are many serious economic and environmental issues that are being swept aside … as part of the plant. And this is a long-term, high-impact project."
The hearings are not yet scheduled but are likely months away.
Progress Energy spokeswoman Wendy Horne said the utility is considering its next step.
"We’re just taking some time to review the ruling, and shortly we’ll decide whether to enter an appeal," she said, adding the ruling was "just one step among many" in the process of building such a power plant.
The other two environmental organizations that petitioned to be part of future hearings and had objections were the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and the Ecology Party of Florida.
The environmental groups had 12 areas of concern. The licensing board dismissed nine. The remaining three had to do with radioactive waste, how construction would affect the aquifer in the area and the plant’s use and disposal of salt water.
The licensing board said the utility company might not have adequately addressed the issue of putting salt water into the area around the plant and how it would affect vegetation.
The environmental groups said the water the plant would use from the Cross Florida Barge Canal would be partially evaporated, leaving a saltier concentration behind. That water would then be pumped into the waters near the Big Bend Aquatic Seagrasses Preserve and potentially harm its vegetation. There were also issues with the evaporation process and its potential impact.
The environmental groups also said the proposed plant should make better plans as to what it would do with its spent radioactive waste and have long-term storage strategies. The utility should also better explain its safety and security procedures for the waste.
The licensing board also agreed with the environmental groups that the utility company should better address the environmental impact of building its plant on a flood plain and its effect on the aquifer and wetlands.
The plant is scheduled to go online by 2018 and cost an estimated $17 billion. It would generate enough electricity for about 1 million customers.
Canney said there were not enough other organizations expressing interest in the proposed plant. He said the issue wasn’t necessarily about being for or against nuclear power, but that it is a major project everyone should be watching and asking questions about.
"There are many, many more problems that should be addressed," Canney said, but he added that his organization relied mostly on volunteers and was limited in what it could do with available resources.