Nuclear Regulatory Commission explains review process for proposed nuclear reactor

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 | 11:40 p.m. CDT; updated 2:24 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FULTON — A meeting to discuss the review process for a proposed nuclear reactor in Callaway County drew more than 500 people. The crowd, including politicians, activists and interested residents, gathered Wednesday night in an auditorium at Westminster College in Fulton.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission organized the meeting to answer questions and explain how it will review an expected application from AmerenUE to build an additional nuclear plant on the same site as its existing reactor in the county.

Joe Colaccino, chief of the commission’s division in charge of reviewing the proposed plant’s design, said AmerenUE is expected to file an application for a combined construction and operating license for the plant by Aug. 4, and the commission expects the review to take about 2 1/2 years.

AmerenUE’s application is expected to reference a design called the U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor, which Lynchburg, Va.-based AREVA NP submitted to the commission in March for certification as a standard design. Once the design is certified, future applicants will be able to reference it and focus their efforts solely on site-specific environmental issues.

AmerenUE will not be granted a license until the Evolutionary Power Reactor design is certified, said Surinder Arora, the commission’s combined license project manager.

Colaccino said that certification process will be completed in 2011 or 2012; therefore, it and several site-specific reviews will be conducted at the same time.

The commission’s next public meeting about the proposal will be in September or October, when officials will ask residents and other stakeholders about the plant’s potential environmental impacts, said Bruce Olson, Nuclear Regulatory Commission environmental project manager.

Officials emphasized a focus on safety throughout the process.

“We will do the review that we need to do to make sure that the plant is safe,” Colaccino said.

Those in attendance at the meeting asked questions as varied as how the plant’s waste would be stored and how brightly the cooling tower should be lit to reduce light pollution.

Many people spoke in support of the proposed plant.

“The whole auditorium was packed with people who supported it,” said Stephanie Miller, a bartender from Mokane who attended the meeting.

Michael Webb, a reactor operations engineer in the commission’s Construction Inspection and Allegations Branch, said Wednesday’s meeting was the fourth such event he’d attended.

“Today is by far the largest crowd that I’ve seen,” he said.

Before the meeting, representatives of seven Missouri environmental advocacy groups held a news conference outside the auditorium to express their opposition to the proposed plant.

“In the name of compassion, I ask the people of Missouri to take a closer look at this,” said Larry Rice, director of New Life Evangelistic Center.

Rice suggested that with rising energy costs, the billions of dollars required to build the reactor should be spent with the poor in mind.

“Nine billion would buy an awful lot of solar panels, wind generators and compact flourescents,” he said.

Ruth Schaefer, a member of Callawegians for Safe Energy, objected to the new plant in part because of safety concerns. “I don’t want that nuke in my backyard. I marched against it 30 years ago ... and I certainly don’t want another one.”

The commission’s staff members who spoke at the meeting said the public will have several more opportunities to comment on the proposal.

“I hope we get the same kind of attendance at those meetings,” senior project manager Mohan Thadani said.

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