Federal board zaps challenge to Progress Energy nuke plant

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A federal panel on Tuesday rejected a challenge by two environmental groups to the license applications for two nuclear power reactors in Levy County, clearing one of the last remaining large obstacles holding up construction, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

The three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Agency adequately identified the direct and indirect wetland and groundwater impacts as presented an environmental impact statement that was part of Progress Energy Florida’s application for the plants.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke merged with Progress Energy in July 2012. Progress Energy will formally start to take on the Duke Energy name starting April 29.

A representative for the two groups that challenged the application, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and the Ecology Party of Florida, declared the board’s ruling to be based on “unfulfilled promises” by the state to monitor the freshwater wetlands from which the two new reactors draw millions of gallons. 

“Yet again, the government is punting responsibility for harm to the environment to our children and grandchildren,” said attorney Diane Curran, who represented the two environmental groups.

“This decision essentially says: ‘We can let this project go ahead now because after the harm is done, someone will figure out how to fix it’.”

The board ruling is considered the last big hurdle for Duke Energy before getting full Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval of the license, which is currently time-lined for the end of 2014. 

“This is a definitely a good step, a positive step, it supports the need for the plant in Levy County,” said Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey. “It clears the way, environmentally, for the NRC to approve the license.”

The NRC must still complete an environmental study of the long-term effects of spent fuel storage at Levy and other reactor sites before the license can be issued for the new reactors.

The plant, to be located seven miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, eight miles north of the company’s Crystal River Energy Complex in Citrus County, has been estimated to cost between $17 billion and $22 billion and could take eight to 10 years to build once the license is approved.

The board ruling claims evidence from a pair of hearings held last fall in Bronson did not support the argument from the two environmental groups that the site is underlain by active sinkholes, groundwater conduits or other “preferential pathways” for groundwater flow.

The Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, are expected to assure that Progress Energy “will actually implement, and successfully perform, the prescribed monitoring and mitigation measures,” a release from the NRC stated.

The ruling comes as state Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, John Legg, R-Lutz, and Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey, have proposed a measure (SB 1472) to require power companies to return any money collected for building new plants if the plans for the plant are shut down.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.