Atomic Safety and Licensing Board wraps up hearings: Exelon and TSEP agree on whoopers, other environmental concerns

By by Dianna Wray
March 17, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.
Updated March 16, 2011 at 10:17 p.m.

Exelon agreed concerns about the endangered whooping cranes were worth studying as it decides if a nuclear plant will be built in Victoria County.

The agreement was reached as part of the second day of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board public hearing.

As the hearing closed its hearing of oral arguments on Thursday morning with hand shakes and friendly conversation at the Leo J. Welder Center.

This came after lawyers representing Texans for a Sound Energy Policy and Exelon came to an "unusual" agreement over key environmental contentions.

The board, an independent arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was in town to hear oral arguments over 23 contentions filed by TSEP against Exelon.

The Chicago-based company Exelon filed an application for an Early Site Permit in March 2010 to build a nuclear power plant about 13 miles outside of Victoria.

The company has no current plans to build a plant, but they'll have the option to do so for the next 20 years if granted the permit.

The environmental group opposes building the location of the site, citing fault lines, concerns about water usage and environmental impact as reasons the nuclear plant should be sited somewhere else.

Exelon, the federal group and the environmental group all agreed that there were some environmental concerns worthy of being contentions as the Early Site Permit process for the nuclear power plant site in Victoria moves forward.

On Wednesday afternoon, the three administrative law judges on the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board suggested that the lawyers representing the two sides meet to see if they could form an agreement over these contentions.

The lawyers representing TSEP and Exelon came back to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board with an agreement administrative judge Michael Gibson called unusual.

On Thursday morning, Jim Blackburn, the environmental lawyer representing the citizens' group, and Steve Franzt, the lawyer representing Exelon, surprised the judges by coming back with an agreement reducing TSEP's seven environmental contentions to two: the two sides agreed to a contention over the affect salinity for oysters, shrimp and blue crab, and a contention regarding the whooping cranes.

Blackburn said the contention agreed to about the endangered whooping cranes is complicated, but boils down to concern over how a nuclear power plant may affect the habitat of the last naturally migrating flock of whoopers in North America.

"I think my hat's off to Exelon on this. They admitted that there is an issue and I'm grateful to the judges for giving us time to sit down and work this out," Blackburn said.

The agreement simplified some of the concerns filed by TSEP. Blackburn noted that the judges said they had never seen all sides come together and reach an agreement on an issue like this.

Blackburn said he was pleased with how the hearing went.

"I'm very pleased with the hearing. I liked the structure of the proceedings, and that we had technical judges as well as legal judges. Their presence allowed us to have the technical issues heard by people that understand them. That was a pretty good feeling," Blackburn said.

Marilyn Kray, representing Exelon, said they too were pleased with proceedings.

"The panel was very fair. We're looking to get the facts out there and the judges offered us the opportunity that was very effective and productive," Kray said.



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