Contact: Jim Warren
March 11, 2008
NRC cut public out of meeting on new nukes at Shearon Harris
Group says agency went into “closed session” after Progress Energy ran into trouble
Durham, NC – Federal regulators abruptly halted a public meeting Thursday after problems arose with Progress Energy’s application for new nuclear plants, then continued private discussions with company officials. Watchdog group NC WARN said the move violates federal policy, and today asked Rep. David Price to help ensure that all future meetings are held in the Triangle area, near the Harris plant.
The charge against NRC comes amid widespread criticism that the review process for proposed new reactors is heavily slanted against open involvement by public interest groups, or local and state governments. Thursday’s session was the first scheduled discussion of the technical aspects of Progress’ February 19th application, which is thousands of pages long.
The meeting was held at NRC’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, but NC WARN’s attorney, executive director and others participated by phone bridge, and followed the power point slides via computers. It was scheduled for 2.5 hours but was called to an end after only 70 minutes.
In a letter sent today to NRC, attorney John Runkle explained, “You essentially went into ‘closed session’ after some tough questions from the NRC staff that lengthy discussions did not resolve. Representatives from Progress Energy were the ones to suggest that issues be resolved ‘after the meeting.’ Nothing being discussed was proprietary or safeguards-related, so all of the meeting should have been public.”
The problems discussed involved site geology and the availability of cooling water. In the letter, Runkle insisted that NRC send him a recording or staff notes of the private meeting with Progress.
“This is an early warning sign for the so-called Nuclear Revival,” said NC WARN’s Jim Warren today. “For Progress Energy to already be dodging difficult issues – until the doors are closed doors – does not bode well for the chance of completing a new design reactor safely or on budget. He noted that cost estimates for new plants have tripled in the past two years, and that project delays or cancellations are likely. In the 1980s, Progress and other utilities cancelled 60 plants in midstream due to what Forbes magazine called “the worst managerial disaster in business history.”
In seeking Rep. Price’s help, NC WARN noted that just last month, he criticized the NRC following a report by the agency’s Inspector General showing that Harris and 14 other plants have been in violation of fire safety regulations for 15 years. In a February 15th letter to NRC Chairman Dale Klein, Price said “… it seems clear that the agency’s credibility in the eyes of the public has been severely damaged,” and he urged Klein to spare no effort to demonstrate “that its actions are fully transparent.”
“The process is already rigged against the public,” Jim Warren added today. “We can’t tolerate any more secrecy. The NRC needs to come have these discussions in the vicinity of Shearon Harris – in front of the impacted population and news media – not behind closed doors in Rockville, Maryland.”