MONROE - About 150 braved high winds and icy roads yesterday to give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission their thoughts about a nuclear plant that DTE Energy hasn't yet decided whether to build.
The $10 billion Fermi 3 construction project would be one of the largest in Michigan's history. For now, it is the only new nuclear plant considered for the Great Lakes region out of 26 under study nationally.
DTE, which would put the reactor on its Fermi complex northeast of Monroe, applied Sept. 18 for the license to become eligible for $300 million to $400 million in tax credits offered by the Bush Administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005, which is providing $6 billion of incentives to build reactors. Utilities had to file by Dec. 31.
Ron May, a DTE senior vice president and the project's manager, said yesterday, "We're in the game. But we haven't committed yet to build."
Yesterday's meeting at Monroe County Community College was the first of two.
The project could create 600 to 700 permanent jobs and temporary employment for 2,000 to 3,000 construction workers.
A number of Monroe-area public officials played up those statistics.
The utility is Monroe County's largest employer, providing a substantial portion of the county's tax revenue. The utility has a twin-reactor complex and a coal-fired power plant - one of the nation's largest - on the outskirts of Monroe.
But Michael Keegan, who lives six miles from the Fermi complex, said DTE should have made shareholders assume the project's financial risk. Tax credits shift some of the burden to the public, he said.
Mr. Keegan and other activists said they believed the hearing was premature, given that the regulatory agency acknowledged it has not approved the type of reactor design the utility has selected. They questioned why the meetings were held when the weather was so harsh that it kept some people from attending.
Nancy Seubert, who coordinates the justice, peace, and sustainability office within the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, said utilities have relied for too long on the Price-Anderson Act that Congress passed in 1957. Like an insurance policy, the law covers utilities for major accidents, but with federal tax dollars.
"If utilities need that kind of protection, shouldn't taxpayers have it as well?" she asked.
Monroe Mayor Mark Worrell was one of several elected officials and members of the business community who supported DTE's plans. "I don't have any concerns about safety for a new Fermi," Mr. Worrell said.
Bill Morris, Monroe County Industrial Development Corp. director, said the project could be a boon to southeastern Michigan's sagging economy.
DTE spent $30 million and put more than 100,000 man hours into its 17,000-page Fermi 3 license application, which is expected to undergo four years of review by the regulatory agency.
The agency is giving the public until Feb. 9 to submit comments about environmental issues. It has set a March 9 deadline for opponents to request an intervention hearing.
More information about the licensing process is at nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors.html.
DTE is considering a new breed of boiling-water reactor designed by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy expected to produce 1,500 megawatts of electricity, roughly enough for 1.5 million homes. A single megawatt powers about 1,000 homes.
Fermi 2, a boiling-water reactor licensed to operate through 2025, generates 1,130 megawatts. Fermi 1 was an experimental reactor that was shut down in 1972.
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