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Nuclear energy regulators go through motions of a public meeting. Their heart isn’t in it

Dallas Morning News

Watchdog Dave Lieber attends a public meeting on the future of Comanche Peak nuclear power plant.

GLEN ROSE — A few hours before a public hearing on whether to renew the operating licenses of Comanche Peak nuclear power plant, I drove out for the first time to see the twin domes that are supposed to protect us in case of a radiation release.

Unit 1 came online in 1990 and Unit 2 came on in 1993. From the outside they look a bit old and weather-beaten. But their importance to the shaky Texas electric grid cannot be ignored.

We need electricity from every possible source. But when it comes to nuclear power, potential disasters are always lurking. The plant is 50 miles from downtown Fort Worth and 80 miles from downtown Dallas.

Owner Vistra Corp. is applying for license renewals. Unit 1′s license runs out in 2030 and Unit 2′s license expires in 2033.

The renewals, if approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would extend their life all the way to 2050 and 2053.

If the licenses are denied, the plants would be dismantled, a process called “decommissioning.”

Some company executives and workers spoke briefly in praise of the plant. Several mentioned the plant’s safety record and reliability, especially during the 2021 February freezeout when it continued working while other electricity generators failed.

The NRC is one of our most important government agencies. Its mission is to power us up while also protecting us.

But like most public agencies, it is remote from the public. The two most public-facing actions occur when you file an open records request and when you attend and speak at an NRC public meeting.

On both fronts, the NRC appears to have its troubles.

I previously reported my test of NRC’s accountability when I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn about a June 2021 fire at Comanche Peak that was not very serious, although it did shut down the plant for nearly two weeks. I wasn’t so much interested in the fire as I was in the handling of my FOIA request. How accountable and forthright would the all-important NRC be?

The NRC muffed it.

A year went by with no response. When I finally complained, some records arrived along with an apology.

I graded the NRC an “F.”

Public meetings can be a challenge, too. Required by law during the license renewal process, the one I attended in Glen Rose felt as if NRC officials were going through the motions.

A two-hour meeting was scheduled, but the first 35 minutes were taken up showing a mundane NRC slide show. A parade of local elected officials followed with each praising the plant operators for their contribution to the local tax base.

Finally, LaVonne Cockerell of Fort Worth, sitting in the audience, couldn’t take it anymore. She interrupted and spoke in an exasperated tone: “Thirty-five minutes, and we haven’t gotten a chance to talk,” she complained.

Then, mixed in with plant employees who spoke glowingly (yes, pun intended) about the safety and care that goes into the plant’s daily operations, the critics finally got their chance.

In a room that had about 80 people — with some of them Vistra employees — more than a dozen critics stood to speak.

They raised valid questions that went unanswered.

How is the air and water affected?

What about onsite waste storage?

How about possible earthquake activity?

What about the impact of major droughts?

What about the plant’s vulnerability to terrorism?

But there was another complaint that kept coming up.

Speaker after speaker complained that the notice of the public meeting was not properly handled. Too few people knew about it. It’s clear that the NRC didn’t work on overdrive to publicize it.

NRC officials say they are satisfying public meeting requirements. They pointed out that this was their second recent public meeting. An in-person meeting scheduled for January was canceled for COVID-19 reasons, they said. The meeting was held virtually later last month. But several speakers said they couldn’t connect online and they requested a do-over.

Several speakers said that if the word had been spread more effectively more area residents would have attended.

“This affects the people who live in Dallas-Fort Worth,” Karen Hadden of Austin told me.

“This has not been an open process,” she said. “I think the local community does not know what’s going on.”

“So many people would be affected by any accidents,” said Susybelle L. Gosslee. “Transparency and accountability are key elements of this government, and they make democracy work.”

Let’s review the stakes here. If there were an accident, those in the 10-mile radius zone would be most affected.

The plant’s emergency evacuation guidelines, which I’ve studied in the past, state that people in the 10-mile zone should flee.

It states, “Keep your car’s vents and windows closed while driving within 10 miles of the power plant. If you use your car air conditioning, set it on ‘inside’ or ‘maximum’ so it does not pull in outside air.”

“Residents are also advised to communicate with neighbors personally rather than clogging phone lines,” it says.

The plan says that livestock should be sheltered. “Leave them with food and water.” Pets are not permitted at “reception centers” outside the evacuation zone.

How big is that zone? Likely, it depends on which way the wind is blowing.

Before I sign off on this for now, I want to share a new word I learned while attending the meeting.

Embrittlement is a scientific term that refers to the weakening of a power plant through usage over time.

Comanche Peak was supposedly built with an intended 40-year life span.

With their licenses renewed they’d keep generating electricity until the 2050s.

That’s why public feedback is crucial. These meetings should be done not because the NRC has to, but because it wants to.

Even though the law doesn’t require it, the NRC should hold more public meetings in the most affected, highly-populated areas, particularly southwestern Tarrant County.

Put on a good public face. Don’t hide news of your meetings. Face the embrittlement questions head on.

In the Know

As of now, no further Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meetings are scheduled for Comanche Peak’s license renewal. But the NRC is accepting public comments in writing until March 13.

By mail: Office of Administration

Mailstop: TWFN-7-A60M

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Washington, D.C. 20555-0001

By Internet: Go to and search for Docket ID: NRC-2022-0183. By email, use

Note that your comments will be made public, so withhold phone numbers or email addresses if you want to protect your privacy

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Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

New Mexico may seek veto power over spent nuke fuel storage

AP News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Senate on Monday approved a proposed ban on the local disposal of spent nuclear fuel, unless the state provides its consent first.

The bill from Democratic state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, of Las Cruces, could impact a proposed multibillion-dollar facility in southeastern New Mexico that is expected to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants across the nation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission may announce a decision as soon as March on whether to grant a license to that project from Holtec International.

The Senate endorsed the bill on a 21-13 vote with Republicans and two Albuquerque-based Democrats in opposition to the proposed ban. The bill moves next to the state House for consideration, amid backing from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Steinborn said New Mexico residents should be wary of becoming “guinea pigs” for temporary storage projects before the federal government decides on a permanent storage site.

His proposal found support among Democratic legislators, including Sen. Brenda McKenna, of Corrales, who noted New Mexico already grapples with the impacts of Uranium mining.

“What I’m really tired of is hearing over the decades of how our resources have been excavated and then things get dumped here,” she said. “I’m tired of New Mexico being exploited this way.”

Several legislators expressed concern that the bill from Steinborn would challenge longstanding federal authority over nuclear safety matters and lead to new court challenges.

“We’ll find out where the state’s authority ends,” said Democratic state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, of Las Cruces, an attorney who voted in support.

New Mexico and neighboring Texas already have sued in federal court over two proposed multibillion-dollar interim storage facilities for spent fuel— the one in southeastern New Mexico and another in Andrews County, Texas.

New Mexico Republican Sen. Craig Brandt, of Rio Rancho, voted against the bill and expressed confidence in the safety vetting of proposed transportation and storage containers that would be used to bring spent nuclear fuel to New Mexico by rail.

Democratic state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, of Albuquerque, also voted no, saying it was wrong to overrule significant local community support at close range to a proposed storage site.

Nuclear reactors across the country produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, with most of it remaining on-site because there’s nowhere else to put it, according to the Department of Energy. The federal government pays to house the fuel, and the cost is expected to stretch into the tens of billions over the next decade, according to a review by independent government auditors.

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Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Court dismisses challenges to Texas SNF storage facility

Nuclear Newswire

A rendering of ISP’s proposed interim storage facility in West Texas. (Image: ISP)
A rendering of ISP’s proposed interim storage facility in West Texas. (Image: ISP)

A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit brought by environmental groups challenging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing of a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the NRC reasonably applied its hearing regulations when approving Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) license for the facility.

ISP, a joint venture of Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists, with additional support from NAC International, submitted a revised CISF license application to the NRC in June 2018. The NRC-approved license was issued in September 2021. The proposed facility will eventually store a total of 40,000 metric tons of SNF over eight phases.

The petitioners: The environmental groups Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club challenged the NRC’s approval of the license, claiming it violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) and that the NRC’s process failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Industry group Fasken Land and Minerals Ltd. and Permian Basin Land and Royalty Owners (PBLRO) also joined the lawsuit, claiming deficiencies in the NRC’s environmental review.

“Our role is not to ‘flyspeck’ an environmental analysis for minor deficiencies,” the court wrote in denying the groups’ NEPA claims. “The environmental report contained adequate consideration and discussion of the storage facility’s environmental impacts; and the [Atomic Safety and Licensing Board] and commission took the requisite ‘hard look’ at the environmental impacts.”

The court also rejected the claim that ISP’s license violated the NWPA, writing “Beyond Nuclear’s contention ignored the proposed license’s plain text, which requires ISP to obtain contracts with either DOE or private entities, as the title-holders of spent nuclear fuel.”

The response: Beyond Nuclear said it will vow to continue to fight the ISP CISF. “We look forward to the opportunity to reappear before the court of appeals to discuss the merits of our claim,” said Mindy Goldstein, a lawyer for Beyond Nuclear.

The environmental group is also challenging Holtec International’s proposed CISF in nearby southeastern New Mexico. The NRC is expected to make a decision on that license as early as March.

Remaining cases: Two other lawsuits challenging ISP’s license remain in federal court, awaiting rulings.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is hearing a case brought by the state of New Mexico and Fasken and PBLRO. Arguments in that case are focused on the “major questions doctrine,” following the recently published U.S. Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. EPA.

Likewise, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has yet to rule on challenges brought by the state of New Mexico against the CISF, which would be located less than a mile from the state border with Texas.

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Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Macron’s French Nuclear Farce

December 7, 2022

By Linda Pentz Gunter

French president, Emmanuel Macron, is still trying to sell the EPR, a reactor that ended up mostly on paper.

I’ve been searching for the equivalent word in French for ‘chutzpah’ but so far ‘insolence’ or ‘audace’ just doesn’t quite cover President Emmanuel Macron’s renewed pitch to sell French nuclear technology to the United States.

Nevertheless, that was a central purpose of Macron’s state visit to the nation’s capital last week. In a mise-en-scène worthy of a Feydeau farce, he even brought a whole atomic entourage with him including representatives from the state regulator (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) as well as cabinet members and the (bankrupt) French nuclear power industry.

It’s chutzpah because the backdrop to Macron’s nuclear promotional tour is the most breathtaking pile of wreckage imaginable. Sacre bleu! If you wanted to paint a picture of a complete industrial fiasco, you need only look at today’s French nuclear power industry.

And yet, here is Macron still blithely attempting to sell the French “flagship” reactor, the EPR, likely second only to the breeder reactor as the most abject failure in nuclear power plant history. EPR stands for Evolutionary Power Reactor. With it, France has achieved the unimaginable, to send evolution in reverse.

Macron has not abandoned the beloved breeder either, which also managed to reverse the legend of its namesake — Phénix — by descending metaphorically into the ashes of nuclear history. And oulàlà, a similar fate befell the Superphénix, a bigger breeder and an even bigger fiasco that cost $10.5 billion and produced power only sporadically before it was permanently shuttered.

French Green Party politician, Dominique Voynet, called Superphénix “a stupid financial waste,” which accurately describes any and all of today’s new nuclear power aspirations.

And yet, last February, just before the elections that saw him retain his throne in the presidential palace, Macron announced the country would go full (radioactive) steam ahead. France would build between 6 and 14 new EPR-2 reactors (yes, the “new improved” EPR!) in the name of climate, extend the operating licenses of the entire current reactor fleet, initiate projects for small modular reactors, and resume exploration of so-called Generation IV (read “fast” or “breeder”) reactors.

Macron bragged that France would build six of the new reactors on three existing sites, with the first start-up date around 2035 and at an estimated cost of $52 billion.

Whatever Macron’s smoking, they’re not Gauloises.

On December 1, after Macron’s meeting with Biden, the White House put out a “joint statement” from the two leaders covering a variety of topics, including energy, under which they stated that “the United States and France plan to set up a nuclear energy small group within the Partnership’s framework,” and that “The Partnership will promote advanced nuclear power globally, which has a key role to play in order to reduce global CO2 emissions, while continuing efforts to limit the spread of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology.”

All of this, fantastically, is being played out during a period when the French nuclear sector has arguably reached its nadir. Half of the country’s 56-reactor fleet are still offline, a crisis that has persisted for months. Some went down due to summer heatwaves or routine maintenance outages, but many of them are closed for safety reasons after the discovery of severe corrosion in piping. Repairs have turned out to be more complicated than expected, pushing back restart dates.
That has forced France to import power, something that happens routinely in winter anyway as French homes rely on electric heat, a demand the domestic French nuclear sector cannot actually meet even on good days.

Now, as winter sets in, there are warnings of power outages. The French have been advised to limit their use of electricity-guzzling gadgets like dishwashers and washing machines.

So much for reliable nuclear power. As Matthew Dalton wrote in The Wall Street Journal in October, “France’s vaunted nuclear fleet has been about as effective as the Maginot Line, the French fortifications that did little to stop the German invasion during World War II.”

Unavaiability of French Nuclear Reactors in 2021 Graph from 2022 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

A year ago, even before the latest rash of safety flaws emerged, shares in EDF, the French national utility, plunged when cracks were detected on pipes of the Civaux reactor, causing the precautionary shutdown of the similar Chooz reactor as well.

This likely precipitated Macron’s decision to fully nationalized EDF earlier this year, after the utility predicted it was “expecting a hit of roughly £28billion ($34.4 billion) to its full-year core earnings”.
French nuclear manufacturer, Areva, formerly Cogema, effectively went bankrupt in 2015 and was rescued by the government while its reactor business was handed over to EDF. (As with many such corporate embarrassments, the company emerged under yet another new name, Orano.)
It was the Areva forge at Le Creusot that was caught falsifying quality control documents and even manufacturing defective safety components, one of which appears to have ended up in the unfinished Flamanville 3 reactor.

That project, on the Normandy coast, was intended as the French EPR flagship. But it is now 12 years behind schedule and the latest — and unlikely — start date is projected to be 2023. That would be 13 years after construction first began. The original $3.7 billion budget has now ballooned to at least $21.5 billion and climbing.

This makes Macron’s claim that yet more new French reactors could be running by 2035 beyond laughable.

Then there is the other EPR flagship — Olkiluoto 3 in Finland — where construction began in 2005. Riven with lawsuits, corporate walkouts and technical failures, the reactor fired up for a testing phase in March 2022, 12 years late and at triple the original projected cost. But the reactor was abruptly shut down in April, and again in August and September, due to problems with feed water pumps and steam turbine failures. It’s now expected to be delivering electricity to the Finnish grid by the end of the year, assuming no other technical failures occur.

Even in China, the only place the EPR is actually operating, and where reactors are usually built with speed (although possibly with questionable quality control) the French EPR Taishan Unit 1 had to be shut down in July 2021 due to damaged fuel rods and remained disconnected from the grid for a year.

It was just predicted that the two EPRs being built in England at the Hinkley C site are likely delayed until 2036, ten years later than the recently announced 2026 startup date. That tab will also likely also soar well beyond the latest $31 billion. And while EDF just got a handy windfall in the form of a $815 million UK government subsidy for its at-sea-level Sizewell two-reactor project in Suffolk, UK, the actual estimated cost is at least $31 billion, so this is more like a transfusion than an infusion of needed cash. A year ago, EDF had announced the premature closure in 2028 of its Heysham 2 and Torness nuclear power plants in the UK, two years earlier than planned.

But here is Macron in Washington, talking about a nuclear “renaissance.” He actually used that word and seems to have missed the memo about the previous “renaissance-that-never-was” in the US when combined construction and operating license applications were filed for 28 new reactors, including four EPRs. (Additional EPR sites were considered but no other applications were filed.)

The first of the EPR suite was supposed to be built at the existing two-reactor Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland. Indeed, Calvert Cliffs-3 was to be the very first reactorin the entire US nuclear “renaissance”, having become, in July 2007, the first company in 30 years to submit a new construction and operating license application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Another “flagship”.

But when US partner, Constellation Energy, pulled out of the Maryland project, EDF could not go forward as the sole foreign owner, illegal under the Atomic Energy Act. It went looking for new domestic partners. No one stepped up.

The US EPR plans, like almost all the others, vaporized, leaving only two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors still under construction, at Plant Vogtle in Georgia, years behind schedule and wildly over-budget. Only two others, the V.C. Summer AP1000 reactors in South Carolina, ever broke ground, only to be abandoned amidst scandal and cost over-runs.
All of this leaves Macron looking like a carnival barker, or worse, a snake oil salesman.

“Who will buy my sweet red roses? Two blooms for a penny”, sang the rose seller in Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! About now, French reactors probably aren’t worth much more than that.

This first appeared on Beyond Nuclear.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the editor and curator of and the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear.

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D.C. Circuit Skeptical of Challenge to Texas Nuclear Waste Site

Daniel Moore, Bloomberg News
Nov. 10, 2022

A three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit on Thursday sharply questioned arguments by environmental groups challenging a federal license of a privately owned interim nuclear waste storage facility in Texas.

Petitioners argued that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval last year of Interim Storage Partners’ facility violates the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act because it includes language allowing a contract with the Energy Department. The case is the second legal challenge against the interim high-level waste facility licensed for Andrews County.

The provision is unlawful because the department, under that law, must select a permanent waste repository before siting a temporary facility, said Diane Curran, of counsel for Harmon Curran representing Beyond Nuclear.

“The only issue before this court is whether you should disregard the plain terms of the license condition, as suggested by the NRC, based on extraneous promises by the agency the fulfillment of the unlawful condition will never ever be carried out or allowed until Congress changes the law,” Curran said.

Hypothetical Development

But Judge Gregory Katsas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pointed out the license is focused on privately owned waste and that the DOE provision would be a hypothetical future development.

“There’s still the other language authorizing arrangements with privately-owned waste, and you have no argument against that,” Katsas said. “Why wouldn’t we, at most, just excise the offending language and sever the rest? There’s no reason why the provision can’t operate as related to privately owned waste.”

Judge David Tatel presented a scenario in which the license could stand if the court received assurances from the government that the unlawful provision will never be implemented.

Curran said severing the provision would be a helpful remedy, but government assurances were not.

Commission Opposition

The NRC asked the judges to reject the challenge.

“The licensee’s requirement is to provide a proof of contract, and if the contract that it relied on in order to satisfy the condition were illegal, the NRC would say no,” said Andrew Averbach, the NRC’s solicitor.

If there were any future contract between the facility with DOE, parties could then seek judicial recourse, Averbach added. But the central premise of this license will be storing spent fuel involving private entities, and reactor licensees will continue to hold title of ownership.

“We’re not talking about DOE taking title,” Averbach said. “We’re talking about private licenses doing something with the fuel that they currently have title to.”

Texas officials sued the NRC for approving the license over the state’s objections, arguing in part that the NRC overstepped its authority by licensing a facility before a permanent one is established. Judges held oral arguments in August in that case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

The facility could hold 40,000 metric tons of spent fuel if all the phases of the project play out.

The case is Don’t Waste Michigan v. NRC, D.C. Cir., No. 21-1048, Oral argument 11/10/22

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To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Moore in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.