News & Observer | newsobserver.com | Nuclear license fight dropped

Published: Aug 21, 2007 12:30 AM
Modified: Aug 21, 2007 05:45 AM

Nuclear license fight dropped

Extension likely for Shearon Harris

Two anti-nuclear groups have given up their legal opposition to Progress Energy's bid to add 20 years to the operating license of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County.

The groups' decision to bow out all but assures that Progress Energy will succeed in extending the nuclear plant's license through 2046. The opposition groups -- Durham's N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Maryland -- effectively gave up by missing a filing deadline last week. The group concluded that the fight against Raleigh-based Progress Energy was not only costly but ultimately futile.

Intensifying the legal battle could have cost as much as $200,000, said NC WARN's director, Jim Warren. NC WARN, a grass-roots organization with three full-time employees, was footing the legal bill and had already spent $10,000 since last fall.

"The process is so rigged," Warren said. "We really could not justify pouring hours and resources into that rat hole."

Earlier this month, a panel of federal administrative law judges rejected arguments by both groups that the Shearon Harris license extension hearings should be opened to review broader safety concerns. The two groups wanted the panel, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, to review the plant's fire safety standards and its readiness against air attack, as well as the adequacy of the region's emergency evacuation plan. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a panel that reviews licensing applications for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, agreed with NRC lawyers and with Progress Energy that, by law, license extension proceedings are limited to reviewing a nuclear plant's safety components and environmental impacts.

The federal government has approved license extensions for 48 nuclear reactors since 2000, when the first reactor came up for review. Reactors are originally licensed for 40 years and eligible to apply for 20-year extensions.

Progress Energy has been operating the plant for 20 years. Company spokesman Rick Kimble said that without organized opposition, the license extension proceedings are still rigorous, albeit speedier.

"It definitely saves time," Kimble said. "It's obviously good for the process from our standpoint, but it's not a done deal."

Had NC WARN prevailed in litigating the license extension, the proceedings would have taken about 30 months instead of the standard 22 months.

As part of the proceedings, the NRC will conduct its on-site inspection of the nuclear plant and issue a safety evaluation report. Later this year, the NRC expects to issue a draft environmental impact statement and hold a public meeting. The NRC's final decision wouldn't come before December 2008.

Staff writer John Murawski can be reached at 829-8932 or john.murawski@newsobserver.com.

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