Supporters outnumber protesters at hearing on Texas nuclear reactors

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Dallas Morning News
esouder @

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 the 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 to four. The company proposed using a 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.

Ms. Hadden, who actively opposes nuclear plants around the state, agreed that local opposition appeared small Tuesday.

"I don't think that's unusual," she said. Many people in Somervell and Hood counties either work for the plant or know people who do, so "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 Dec. 17.

"It's definitely foul play," Ms. 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 Ms. Caldwell's suggestion. She said she also helped write some resolutions.

Of course, community support could turn, as it did when TXU attempted to build 11 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 to be a bigger threat: paying for them. Executives have said that unless the U.S. government can guarantee loans for the multibillion-dollar expansion, the company cannot afford to build the new reactors.

So far, the Department of Energy has set aside only enough money to guarantee loans for a few of the dozens of nuclear reactors that power companies have proposed.

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