FULTON — Environmental activists want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take a longer look at Ameren Missouri's request for a 20-year license renewal at the state's only nuclear power plant.
The federal agency held a sparsely attended public meeting Wednesday afternoon in Fulton on Ameren's license renewal application for the Callaway plant. Just four members of the public spoke, with Ameren officials, NRC employees and reporters outnumbering ordinary citizens. A second Fulton meeting was scheduled for Wednesday night.
The St. Louis-based utility submitted its license renewal application for the nuclear plant late last year. Ameren's current 40-year operating license for the Callaway County plant expires in 2024. The application is not related to Ameren's plans to build a second nuclear power plant in Missouri, a move that's on hold while state lawmakers continue to debate legislation that would allow the utility to charge consumers for the costs of obtaining an early site permit before construction begins.
Ameren's application and an accompanying environmental review exceed 1,600 pages.
Ed Smith, safe energy director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, asked the NRC officials to extend the public comment period on the application beyond the standard 60-day deadline, which would end April 24. Smith asked for another 30 days of public comment.
He also said the license renewal requires further scrutiny after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The tsunami sent three of the plant's reactors into meltdown in the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
"We're going ahead and creating long-life radioactive waste for 40 to 60 years of fleeting electricity use," he said. "We're going to have to store this stuff for billions of years for 60 years' worth of electricity."
The NRC last week ordered major safety changes for U.S. nuclear power plants, including a requirement to install or improve venting systems to limit core damage in a serious accident and to install sophisticated equipment to monitor water levels in pools of spent nuclear fuel.
Scott Bond, Ameren Missouri's manager for nuclear development, said the Callaway relicensing request isn't necessarily contingent on enhanced safety rules post-Fukushima.
"NRC has looked at the issues with Fukushima and not seen any immediate threat to the U.S. public," he said. "The regulations will evolve. ... Whether we get relicensed this year or 10 years from now, any rule changes from Fukushima will be applicable to our plant."
Two of the four public speakers Wednesday were local government officials who praised Ameren as a safety-minded and benevolent corporate citizen. The public meeting was scheduled to last for two hours but wrapped up in less than 60 minutes.
The scene was far different the last time the NRC came to town, in July 2008, when hundreds of supporters and opponents packed a Westminster College auditorium at the first public session on Ameren's proposed second nuclear reactor at Callaway.
The federal agency expects to make a decision on Ameren's relicensing request by the end of 2013, though that time frame could be extended if it decides to hold a formal public hearing.