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Anti-nuclear group seeks to halt Fermi 3 plant

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Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station in Frenchtown Charter Township near Monroe, Mich., in 2014.

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NEWPORT, Mich. — A national anti-nuclear group is trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its objection to DTE Energy’s license to build a Fermi 3 nuclear plant at some point in the future if the utility ever so chooses to do so.

Beyond Nuclear, based in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Md., contends the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission erred in issuing the license in 2015 after nearly seven years of public hearings, legal challenges and internal deliberations.

A petition filed this week by Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney serving as the group’s legal counsel, argues the NRC excluded a 29-mile, 300-foot-wide transmission corridor from the environmental impact statement required under the National Environmental Policy Act, including 10.8 miles of transmission corridor that would pass through previously undisturbed wetlands and other habitat that is likely critical for a variety of endangered and threatened plants and animals in southeast Michigan.

At-risk species in that area include the Indiana bat, the eastern fox snake, and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Mr. Lodge said.

The NRC “cannot be allowed to excuse itself from obeying this half-century-old, hard-won law,” Mr. Lodge said.

Agency spokesman Viktoria Mitlyng said Tuesday the NRC is aware of the petition, but had no comment about it.

The petition claims the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia should have overturned the NRC’s decision in its ruling last November, when it upheld the NRC’s decision to grant the construction license.

DTE has said repeatedly it has no immediate plans to build a Fermi 3 nuclear plant, even though it spent more than $300 million for the license as a contingency plan. Those costs were covered by incentives the former Bush administration created for the nuclear industry under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Since the modern era of horizontal fracking of shale began about 2007, resulting in record-low natural gas prices and upending energy markets in general, analysts have said there is even less incentive for utilities — especially in states such as Michigan and Ohio that have deregulated electricity markets — to invest in nuclear power. Plants the size of what has been envisioned as Fermi 3 now cost well over $10 billion.

In a statement Tuesday, DTE spokesman John Austerberry reiterated the utility still views the license as only a contingency plan, in the event market conditions someday favor more commercial-scale nuclear power plants to be built from scratch.

If Fermi 3 is ever built, it would be constructed on the same nuclear complex northeast of Monroe where Fermi 2 is now operating and its predecessor, Fermi 1, used to operate. The site is along western Lake Erie in Monroe County’s Frenchtown Township, about 30 miles north of Toledo.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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