Amid the Applause, the Sound of Dissent

as passed on by Paul Gunter

©The Washington Post

Amid the Applause, the Sound of Dissent

Calvert Reactor Has Many Fans, a Few Foes

By Dan Morse

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007; Page SM01

When UniStar Nuclear took another step last week toward building a reactor in Calvert County to generate electricity, the big question wasn't so much who supported the concept.

"A great idea," said county Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby), summing up the views of many residents who are so comfortable living near two long-running reactors that some even go fishing next to them. "This country is in dire need of energy, and the nuclear stuff is a good, clean, environmentally friendly way to do it."

The bigger question: Who opposed it?

A partial answer could be found Thursday night inside a conference room along Main Street as dusk settled over Annapolis. Sitting around a table, munching on carrot sticks, homemade hummus, grapes and crackers were six members of a nascent group, which they decided that night would be called the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition. One each came from Baltimore, Columbia, Washington and St. Mary's County and two from Calvert.

How much criticism they can bring to bear -- and they intend to bring a lot -- could play a role in shaping how the planning and review process unfolds for the proposed reactor. Last Monday, UniStar, which hopes to build at least four reactors nationwide, announced Calvert Cliffs as the site for which it will file its first construction and operating license application with federal regulators.

It's a long process. Construction wouldn't begin until late 2010, at the earliest. That would give the new opposition group time to draw like-minded residents.

"As an organizer, I see a lot of energy out there," said one of the six, Johanna Neumann. "I'm looking forward to the fight."

Neumann, 27, is a policy advocate for Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit organization devoted to environmental, consumer protection and other issues. In March, it published "The High Cost of Nuclear Power: Why Maryland Can't Afford a New Reactor," a 28-page paper that can be found at http://marylandpirg.org.

The not-so-subtle cover is a map, centered with a dot representing Calvert Cliffs. Concentric circles take in the Eastern Shore, the District and Baltimore, creating a sort of doomsday image of the effect should the reactor blow up. Inside, the paper makes points often raised by opponents: Nuclear power is expensive and draws government funds, plants are at risk of terrorist attacks and reactors produce radioactive spent fuel.

Members of the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition think that as utilities push a resurgence of nuclear power, residents will remember the accident at Chernobyl.

Bob Boxwell of Lusby was one of two Calvert residents at the Annapolis meeting. He lives eight miles from the reactor site and is an active member of the Southern Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.

Boxwell said the answer to global warming isn't nuclear power but rather conservation and the use of solar and wind energy. And he's certainly against building another big energy plant in Calvert.

"You can quote me on this: We're the energy ghetto of Maryland," Boxwell said, in a reference to Calvert being home to a nuclear power plant and a major liquefied natural gas terminal.

The coalition intends to launch a petition drive. Neumann hopes to collect at least 2,000 signatures, with signers becoming the recruiting base for more activist opponents. She would then try to bring pressure on local and state politicians, creating enough opposition that UniStar could be forced to consider other options.

"We want to build where we are accepted," said Brian Meeley, a UniStar spokesman.

UniStar is a joint venture of Constellation Energy Group, based in Baltimore and owner of Calvert Cliffs plant, and Areva Inc., a French company.

Meeley said the support UniStar receives in Calvert is as strong as anywhere else in the country.

Last year, citing the good safety record of Calvert Cliffs reactors and the creation of approximately 400 jobs if a new reactor were built, Calvert government offered tax breaks valued at $300 million for the proposed reactor. "Their past record has been excellent," Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large) said. "I have a lot of faith that will continue."

Nationwide, there appears to be a growing acceptance of nuclear power, given increasing concern over global warming, said Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. He broke ranks with traditional environmentalists in 2005 by touting the advantages of nuclear energy in an article for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review.

"I would expect Maryland residents, including environmentalists, to be more open to a nearby nuclear power plant now than 10 years ago," Brand said in an e-mail Friday from California. "And more open now than a year ago, because climate change has come on strong as a concern.

". . . How about five years from now?" he continued. "I would bet yes, because I think climate will be a still-growing concern, and more people will have become more familiar with the current state of nuclear power technology. It is mature, reliable and getting ever better."

Other environmental groups continue to take a hard line against the construction of projects such as the one proposed at Calvert Cliffs. Among them are Greenpeace, which recently published a report on nuclear economics that says projects can run 300 percent over budget.

Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace USA, was involved in hearings on re-licensing of existing Calvert Cliffs reactors and said there was "solid public opposition" in Maryland.