The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has thrown out claims from several groups opposing the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant's relicensing that wind, solar, or other "alternative" energy sources could replace the plant's electricity generation capability.
By a 5-0 vote, the commission decided Tuesday that the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board erred last year when it accepted the alternative-energy related "contention" from the coalition of intervenors -- Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio.
Its written decision declared that the intervenors' argument that wind farms, solar cells, or some combination of the two could readily replace the 908 megawatts that Davis-Besse now generates, is unsupported by evidence that will be possible when the plant's license expires in five years.
"The mere potential for, or theoretical capacity of, wind generation facilities is insufficient to show their commercial viability as a source of baseload power in the [region of interest] by 2017," the commission wrote in part.
Later in its decision, the commission found that Al Compaan, an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Toledo and the intervenors' expert witness, had "failed to provide the [licensing] board the necessary support for the proposition that wind or solar facilities constitute a reasonable alternative to the renewal of the Davis-Besse operating license."
The intervenors issued a joint statement Wednesday protesting the NRC decision and vowing to appeal it "at the earliest opportunity."
The statement further noted that because the commission accepted part of the groups' parallel claim that computer models FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Corp. used to evaluate the effects of an accidental radiation release from the plant, the opportunity for appeal will await the "months, or even years" it may take to assess that claim.
"NRC's own mandate requires it to protect the environment, something they have just violated by gutting the National Environmental Policy Act," said Kevin Kamps, a spokesman for Takoma Park, Md.-based Beyond Nuclear.
"NEPA requires NRC to take a hard look at alternatives to FENOC's proposal for 20 more years at Davis-Besse, which the agency has now refused to do."
"If unchallenged, NRC's decision would set a horrible precedent not only for environmental challenges to nuclear licenses, but for any challenges whatsoever," said Terry Lodge, the environmental coalition's attorney.
The commission has "effectively ruled that intervenors must completely prove their case at the very beginning of the proceedings, before the trial has even begun."
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland), another persistent Davis-Besse critic, called the NRC ruling "highly unusual" for having "overruled their own board and slamming the door shut on these four citizen groups, denying them an opportunity to present their evidence."
The opponent groups in January added another "contention" to their relicensing objections based on the October discovery of concrete cracking in the nuclear plant's outer Shield Building that they contend invalidates the building's purpose. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is to hear preliminary oral arguments May 18 regarding that issue.
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