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Published: Thursday, 10/31/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago


NRC to hear arguments on DTE license for 3rd reactor


MONROE — Closing arguments are expected today on DTE Energy’s application for a license to build a third nuclear reactor on its Fermi complex north of Monroe, a project in excess of $10 billion that may not materialize even if the license is granted.

DTE has stated since it applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008 it has not decided if it will follow through with construction. The company filed to remain eligible for $300 million to $400 million in tax credits. The application is the only one from the Great Lakes region and one of only two from the Midwest.

One of DTE’s top executives was quoted last week as saying the utility is more likely to build a natural gas-power plant or invest in more renewables before it proceeds with the proposed Fermi 3. Natural gas prices have plummeted because of the global fracking frenzy. DTE also wants to stay in compliance with a Michigan law that requires utilities to get more power from renewables, eventually reaching a 10 percent mix.

But DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo said Wednesday the company still covets the nuclear license to keep its options open. “In the long run, it’s a prudent move,” he said.

The utility and the NRC sent their teams of lawyers, engineers, and executives to the hearing’s first day on Wednesday. The hearing is inside the Monroe County Commission chambers before the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a three-judge panel of administrative law judges who are employed by the NRC but rule independently.

Challenging the application is a coalition of environmental groups that have filed about 30 contentions over the years. All but three have been dismissed. One, which pertains to long-term storage of nuclear waste, is on hold pending the outcome of a national directive that affects all plants.

The intervenors’ key witness, Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education of Burlington, Vt., told the panel soil tests should be called into question because DTE was notified by the NRC in 2009 that it had not developed a sufficient quality-assurance program.

By then, DTE’s contractor, Kansas City-based Black & Veatch, had been running the program two years. Allowing the contractor to take the lead discourages whistleblowers from raising potential problems about how well the soil could be compacted to support a future plant’s mega-ton buildings, Mr. Gundersen argued.

“The entire process was jeopardized,” he said.

Judges questioned how much oversight DTE did before taking over the program.

The morning was devoted to discussions about whether endangered eastern fox snakes would survive if they were captured and relocated. The snake is one of several animals that could be put at risk, officials said.

“Most of the impacts would be during the construction and site-preparation phase,” said David Weeks, a scientist from Ecology and Environment Inc. of Lancaster, N.Y., who was called as a witness by DTE.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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