July 7, 2011

Judges Admit Numerous Site Safety and Environmental Impact Contentions Raised by TSEP About Exelon’s Victoria Site

AUSTIN, Texas, July 7, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Texans for a Sound Energy Policy (TSEP) received rulings that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) has granted full party status to and declared that TSEP has met the threshold for the formal admissibility of eight of their contentions regarding Exelon's application for an Early Site Permit (ESP) for a proposed nuclear power plant site south of Victoria, Texas. 14 of TSEP's original 23 contentions were admitted; eight of the original 23 were consolidated into two with the cooperation of Exelon's opposing counsel.

The ASLB's ruling allowed for an unusually high number of contentions to be admitted that cover a range of unresolved issues with the Victoria County site, including three contentions relating to safety and five relating to environmental impacts. The admitted contentions concern an unprecedented level of detailed scientific analysis of the major unresolved issues including the proposed site's impact on water, the environment, endangered species and site safety concerns that render it unsuitable for a nuclear power plant.

TSEP's attorney, Jim Blackburn, offered, "We are pleased to see that the ASLB is taking these matters seriously, and agrees with us that they warrant deeper investigation. Exelon's narrow view of site safety issues was rejected, and even Exelon has agreed that there are disputed environmental issues and conflicts with their scientific analysis."

Blackburn continued: "Post-Fukushima the entire world is taking a closer look at issues of safety surrounding nuclear power plants. The licensing process this Victoria County Exelon site is undergoing is one of the first opportunities for the NRC to decide what nuclear safety in the United States will look like moving forward."

Two of the three safety contentions admitted focus on inadequate identification and movement of growth faults at the proposed site. The ASLB ruled that Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear operator, may not have provided sufficient geological data regarding growth faults in the area of the proposed plant, and they may have underestimated the risk of surface deformation. Additionally the ASLB ruled that Exelon's Site Safety Analysis Report (SSAR) may dramatically understate the rate of recent surface movement of the growth faults, as established by field studies showing rates of movement 1000 to 10,000 times greater than their report states.

The third safety contention allowed by the judges opens up unchartered territory for siting of nuclear plants: the dangers of locating a nuclear power plant on a site with hundreds of active and abandoned oil and gas wells. TSEP contends that Exelon failed to provide adequate data regarding these oil and gas wells and borings on and near the site in Victoria County. Closely related, an environmental contention was admitted that will require further analysis of the environmental impacts of enhanced seepage of contaminants out of the plant's cooling pond into oil and gas wells and borings beneath the site. And Exelon has not identified how it will prevent or mitigate this impact by identifying and plugging the wells and borings.

Equally precedent setting, especially in Texas, the ASLB has ruled that Exelon's environmental report will need to take a closer look at the impact of climate change on water availability and aquatic resources in the Guadalupe and San Antonio River basins, an issue that was entirely unmentioned in Exelon's application.

The ASLB has admitted two contentions concerning the impact of the proposed plant on the San Antonio Bay and the endangered Whooping Crane. TSEP contends that the proposed site's water use will have a significant impact on Whooping Cranes in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge because water withdrawals from the Guadalupe River required for a water-intensive nuclear power plant will significantly reduce fresh water flowing into San Antonio Bay. This will in turn significantly increase the salinity of the water in the Bay, which will impact sources of drinking water and food sources for Whooping Cranes and will negatively impact their survival and recovery or harm their habitat. These issues will be critical because the NRC is prohibited by Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act from issuing a license to Exelon if it would jeopardize the Whooping Cranes, or if it would alter their critical habitat.

Said Blackburn: "The Whooping Crane is the icon of the endangered species act, and there has never been a nuclear power plant sited in a location where the Department of the Interior and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have so much at stake. This is a serious Section 7 issue that has the attention of two federal regulatory agencies - and we are heartened that the NRC has admitted this issue for further litigation."

Finally, TSEP has maintained from the beginning of this ESP process that Victoria is an unsuitable location for siting a nuclear power plant, and has questioned Exelon's decision to move away from their initial choice of Matagorda as the best location to build a new nuclear power plant in Texas. The alternative Matagorda County site considered by Exelon does not have the serious problems and large impacts identified at the Victoria site. The ASLB ruled with TSEP that Exelon must rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all alternative sites.

This ruling begins a two-year legal process during which these contentions will be further analyzed, Exelon will revise its application, and should new information come to light TSEP will file additional contentions.

Blackburn commented, "We look forward to the opportunity to prove our case that there is not just one but a host of factors that render this site unsuitable for a nuclear power plant."

Texans for a Sound Energy Policy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded as a public service by various family members and entities associated with the original D. M. O'Connor Ranches of Texas.

SOURCE Texans for a Sound Energy Policy