Supporters Outnumber Protesters at Hearing on Proposed EFH Nuclear Reactors
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Dallas Morning News
Jan. 6--GLEN ROSE -- If the turnout for Tuesday's public meeting on expansion of the nuclear plant is any sign, protesters might not pose much of a threat to Energy Future Holdings' plans to build two new reactors.
Some representatives of state environmental groups and a few local people expressed concern about the safety of the new reactor design, the impact on local water supply and storing nuclear waste onsite.
"I maintain that these reactors are not necessary," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, an advocacy group. "There are so many ways to build the local economy without the risk of handling radioactive material."
Many more local politicians and business leaders stood up to tell the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which arranged the meeting, that EFH, formerly TXU Corp., has long been a good neighbor.
"We're not new to this process or new to this relationship," said Somervell County Judge Walter Maynard. "They've always been very good stewards of the water and the air and the land."
Luminant, the division of EFH that operates the Comanche Peak nuclear plant, filed an application last year to build and operate two new reactors here, bringing the total number to four. The company proposed using a new reactor design that hasn't yet been built.
Tuesday's meeting is part of the commission's official process to handle those applications. The commission will consider input from the local community when deciding whether to approve the license.
Hadden, who actively opposes nuclear plants around the state, agreed that local opposition appeared small on Tuesday.
"I don't think that's unusual," she said. Many people in Somervell and Hood counties work for the plant or know people who work for the plant, and "it takes a lot of courage" to oppose plant expansion.
Further, several protesters complained that they first heard of the meeting on Christmas Eve, though people who support the plant found out about the meeting as early as December 17.
"It's definitely foul play," Hadden said.
Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said he's "perturbed" about the notification process.
He also called on the commission to study whether the nuclear reactors have affected cancer rates in North Texas.
Luminant carefully prepared the groundwork for Tuesday's meeting. Jan Caldwell, community relations manager for the nuclear plant, has met with local officials to discuss the expansion.
Several commissioners courts and other political groups passed resolutions supporting the plant, sometimes at Caldwell's suggestion. She also helped write some resolutions.
A few supporters pointed out that nuclear plants don't emit greenhouse gases while operating and don't emit the kind of pollution coal plants spew. Other supporters sang the praises of Luminant.
"They've helped our economy to perform better than other places," said Granbury mayor pro tem Lisa Johnson. "We wish Luminant a speedy and successful application process."
Of course, community support could turn, as it did when TXU attempted to build 11 new coal-fired power plants. After high-profile politicians and business leaders publicly opposed the coal plants, TXU agreed to build only three plants.
But for the nuclear reactors, there's likely a bigger threat: Paying for them. Executives have said unless the U.S. government can guarantee loans for the multi-billion-dollar expansion, the company cannot afford to build the new reactors.
So far, the Department of Energy has only set aside enough money to guarantee loans for a few of the dozens of new nuclear reactors that power companies have proposed.
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