Group: New reactor inefficient

Conservation, renewable energy urged

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Maryland environmental and consumer-rights group is arguing that conservation and alternative sources of energy would better serve the state’s energy needs than would a proposed third reactor at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

In a report released Thursday, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, or MaryPIRG, maintains that new nuclear power would be more expensive, more dangerous and worse for the environment than alternatives.

‘‘A comparison of the two pathways shows that by any measure — reliability, cost, safety, environmental impact, or support for a growing Maryland economy — clean energy is likely to outperform a nuclear-based strategy for powering Maryland’s future,” the authors wrote in ‘‘Powering Maryland’s Future: How Clean Energy Outperforms Nuclear Power in Delivering a Reliable, Safe and Affordable Supply of Energy.”

Improvements in energy efficiency would be easy and cheap to make, and even alternative energy sources like solar and wind could be brought online faster and more easily than a new nuclear reactor, according to the report.

‘‘A new reactor at Calvert Cliffs would not be complete until December 2015 at the very earliest, making a nuclear-based strategy ineffective in meeting the state’s near-term challenges,” the report said.

MaryPIRG also fears that the ballooning estimates for reactor cost — and the cost for liability in the event of an accident — will be foisted off on taxpayers in tax breaks, loan guarantees and other government aid.

‘‘Nuclear reactors can only become financially viable by transferring risk to taxpayers and⁄or customers,” according to the report. ‘‘The long-term value of federal taxpayer subsidies for a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs could exceed $13 billion if it is one of the first new plants built in the United States. In addition, taxpayers could be on the hook for up to 98 percent of the damages caused by a worst-case accident at a nuclear facility under a nuclear industry liability cap created by Congress.”

MaryPIRG took aim at the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners for its decision two years ago to grant a 50 percent, 15-year tax credit for the third reactor, to begin when it comes online.

Commissioners have defended the decision by citing the temporary and permanent jobs the new reactor would create and by pointing out that even with the break, the county would earn millions more in property taxes than it would without the new reactor.

But MaryPIRG says the decision wasn’t worth it: ‘‘At the local level, Calvert County has already promised $300 million in tax breaks to [plant owner] Constellation if the company builds a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs. This is equal to $4,500 per taxpayer in Calvert County. The new plant will add 450 full-time jobs in the county, but at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $750,000 per job.”

Nuclear energy also poses safety hazards lacking in alternative energy and conservation approaches, according to MaryPIRG.

Because the proposed design — Evolutionary Power Reactor, or EPR — is relatively new, the group argues that mistakes and cost overruns are therefore more likely than with more familiar technology. Nuclear power plants could also make more inviting targets for terrorists.

‘‘While a terrorist might consider a nuclear power plant a good target — because of the potential to severely disrupt electricity supply or to drive an evacuation — a terrorist would likely find little value in attacking a smart thermostat, an efficient air conditioner, a solar panel or a windmill,” the report said.

Support for a third reactor has been nearly-unanimous among politicians and businesspeople in Calvert County, but MaryPIRG State Director Johanna Neumann believes the report has the potential to change that climate.

‘‘We wouldn’t be working on this campaign if we didn’t think that there was the potential to move forward on a clean energy future for the state instead of a nuclear future,” Neumann said. ‘‘Over the course of the past five to 10 years, the nuclear industry has really taken advantage of a growing concern around Calvert County to revive their industry, and I think a lot of people in public and a lot of our legislators have heard that nuclear industry message and are rethinking nuclear power. Our goal is to make sure that we put all options on table, choose the path that will be more affordable, most reliable and the cleanest energy future for the state.”

Solomons resident Julia Clark spoke against the third reactor at MaryPIRG’s press conference in Baltimore. In an interview on Wednesday, Clark said she is opposed to the reactor because she has safety concerns.

‘‘I’m shocked that the county is turning to potentially catastrophic unclean nuclear energy when there are more effective, less expensive, more expedient, safe forms of energy available that could be implemented in a quick fashion and I’m nonplussed about that,” Clark said. ‘‘... This is definitely more than just a county issue. This is a state issue and a national issue. I’m concerned that if this reactor is approved, that this will spawn a nuclear renaissance in the United States and I feel that nuclear energy is a relic of the 20th century and I think we need to move forward into the 21st century.”

Director of Generation Communication for Constellation Energy Maureen Brown declined to comment on the report because she had not yet received a copy.

She emphasized that Constellation has not yet decided to build at Calvert Cliffs, but said that a third reactor would ‘‘help meet the region’s energy needs.”