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Environmental group submits report on Exelon's proposed nuclear site

By Dianna Wray
Dec. 30, 2010 at 6:30 a.m.


EXELON NUCLEAR PROJECT TIMELINE September 2008: Exelon submits Combined Operating License Application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

October 2008: NRC dockets COLA.

November 2008: Exelon announces plans to change technology.

July 2009: Exelon indicates plan to pursue Early Site Permit.

March 2010: Exelon submits ESP to NRC.

June 2010: Exelon requests to withdraw COLA.

July 2010: NRC accepts Exelon's request to withdraw COLA.

December 2010: NRC holds environmental feedback hearing on Exelon. Going through the Early Site Application process will save the company months if they decide to build a plant in the future, officials said.

August 2012: NRC expected to issue the Environmental Impact Statement.

August 2013: NRC's final EIS expected to be published.

While it may be years before Victoria actually sees a nuclear site in the area, the fight between Exelon Nuclear and local residents who oppose the plant has flared up again.

Texans for a Sound Energy Policy, an environmental group funded by the O'Connor family, released a study on Tuesday identifying safety risks for the proposed nuclear site because of active growth faults and a number of oil and gas wells in the area.

The engineering analysis conducted by Colorado-based firm Halepaska & Associates Inc. found that active geologic growth faults and the number of oil and gas wells near the proposed site were a point of concern.

The group's attorney Jim Blackburn said growth faults located below the proposed site of the cooling pond and other areas raise safety issues because nuclear plants depend on the water to keep them cool and running.

Blackburn said oil and gas wells on the site were also a point of concern.

Blackburn said the organization plans to use the study to file contentions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission opposing the Early Site Permit.

The Chicago-based Exelon is in the second phase of the application process.

Craig Nesbitt, Exelon vice president of communications, said the company wasn't concerned about the report issued by TSEP. Nesbitt said the issues on growth faults and oil and gas fields have already been addressed in the Early Site Permit application.

"It didn't offer any new information. It just framed the information in such a way to make it seem as if it was something that would scare people. That's something TSEP has done for years," Nesbitt said.

He said the growth faults are something that is occurring across Texas. If the plant is built, the faults would be taken into account by the engineers.

Nesbitt said the oil-and-gas wells in the area were not a worry. He said they knew about the wells before they started the application process.

"We knew about those oil-and-gas wells before we started the process, and then we analyzed the results. If there was any well or pipeline that needed to be relocated, we'd just move it," Nesbitt said.

Halepaska project manager Steve Lange, a geochemist, headed the study.

Lange worked in the nuclear power field for years and is personally a longtime proponent of it. But, he said he was concerned by what they found in the study conducted around the perimeter of the site.

Lange disagreed with Nesbitt.

Lange said the growth faults have shown signs of movement over the past 50 years, which could make an unstable surface to build on. He also noted he has never seen so many oil and gas wells located near a nuclear site before.

"Every engineer says they will be able to engineer around everything, but it depends on what they know, how experienced they are and how they plan. Many of the events that they need to plan for haven't occurred yet," Lange said.

Victoria Economic Development Board president Dale Fowler said he was not concerned about the report.

"We have a lot of confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and their process for site approval," Fowler said, "We also have confidence in Exelon that if there was an issue with our site that they couldn't mitigate, they wouldn't build the plant."

Fowler said he felt opponents to the nuclear plant were motivated by a "not-in-my-backyard" approach to nuclear power.

Bill Jones, representative of the O'Connor family, said this is not the case.

"The O'Connor family is not anti-nuclear power or anti-development. Nor is this 'purely a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard)' issue as some local leaders have falsely claimed," Jones said. "These serious site safety issues and environmental threats should be of concern to everyone from here to the coast."

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