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Will New Mexico’s new law stop a proposed nuclear waste dump?

May 3, 2023
By Hannah Grover and Searchlight New Mexico

This story was written in collaboration with Searchlight New Mexico.

In March, New Mexico lawmakers took their biggest step yet in an attempt to block plans for a nuclear waste storage facility in the scrublands near Carlsbad.

The legislature passed Senate Bill 53 on a largely partisan vote, seeking to block Holtec International’s eight-year effort to build a facility in southeastern New Mexico that would hold 8,680 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants across the country.

The state has been challenging Holtec’s plans for years, both in court and before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But New Mexico’s best chance at stopping the project may come in the form of the new law, which became effective when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it on March 17.

Legal and nuclear experts anticipate that the law will face legal challenges, however. And in the end, federal courts will likely determine if New Mexico has the authority to keep Holtec from building its Consolidated Interim Storage Facility on a 1,040-acre site between Carlsbad and Hobbs.

Foes of the project include not only the governor and state legislators, but also the state’s congressional delegation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, numerous local governments and a wide array of activists and citizens.

Transporting radioactive waste through New Mexico and storing it near one of the world’s most productive oil fields would jeopardize the economy, the environment, and health and safety, opponents say.

“People are deserving of protection for our way of life and our health and well-being,” said Rose Gardner, a Eunice resident and member of the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, who advocated for SB 53 this spring.

Lujan Grisham, for her part, sent a letter to the NRC shortly after she signed the bill, asking the agency to “immediately suspend any further consideration of the Holtec license application.”

The new law, the governor noted, establishes two conditions that must be met before the state can issue permits, contracts or licenses for a high-level nuclear waste storage facility. First, New Mexico must consent to the facility; and second, the federal government must have a permanent nuclear waste repository in place, so that an alternative storage site exists. Neither of those conditions have been met.

If no permanent nuclear repository exists, the Holtec site wouldn’t be “interim storage,” as it’s now billed — instead, it would be forever storage, opponents argue. New Mexico would become the de facto dumping ground for all of the nation’s high-risk nuclear detritus, they say.

Legal questions ahead

In the event of a court challenge, legal experts say New Mexico will need to prove that the new law is not focused on safety concerns. Nuclear safety, including the storage and transport of radioactive waste, falls under the federal government’s purview, as established by the Atomic Energy Act (AEA).

Under the AEA, the federal government reserves the right to regulate safety issues for nuclear power plants and waste. The federal law preempts — or takes precedence over — state statutes, which can be challenged in court if they conflict with federal authority.

“Costly and time-consuming litigation could occur if this bill were challenged,” as the fiscal impact report for the new law puts it.

The measure’s co-sponsor, Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Galisteo), directly addressed the preemption issue during committee hearings, assuring fellow lawmakers that the bill sidestepped any problems. “Federal law preempts the state’s ability to regulate the safety or handling of nuclear waste,” he told the House Judiciary Committee in March. “So we’re not doing that.”
About half a dozen lawyers and experts, however, said it was unclear whether New Mexico’s law could be considered a preemption.
Nuclear waste storage laws like New Mexico’s are almost always challenged in court, said Geoffrey Fettus, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. However, he said, “New Mexico took deep pains to sail the ship into the dock without hitting the sides of federal preemption.”

Legal challenges bring mixed results

Nearly two decades ago, Utah enacted statutes to block an interim nuclear waste storage facility, basing them on safety concerns. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down Utah’s laws, finding that they were preempted. (The facility was nevertheless never built due to political opposition.)

A more recent case regarding Virginia’s battle to ban uranium mining went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. This time, the state prevailed: The high court upheld Virginia’s ban in 2019.

Legislation, meanwhile, has not always paid off. In September 2021, Texas enacted House Bill 7 to block a nuclear waste storage facility much like the Holtec project, located about a mile from the New Mexico border. Days later, the NRC approved a license for it. (The facility is not yet built; the battle against it is ongoing.)

The NRC has not yet issued a decision about whether it will approve a license for Holtec’s venture in New Mexico. The agency recently informed Holtec that its decision would be delayed until about the end of May.

Train crashes and temblors

In the backdrop, safety issues remain a major concern. Among many potential dangers, critics of the Holtec project note that trains transporting radioactive waste could derail or crash, a possibility made more real by the recent train derailment disaster in Ohio.

An accident involving the Holtec project would not only threaten residents and the environment. It could also devastate the economy, according to the legislative fiscal impact report. “A significant accident or attack on a radioactive waste storage facility could significantly disrupt oil and gas activity in one of the most productive oil and gas producing regions in the world,” it stated.

In court documents, New Mexico has argued that the NRC did not consider the costs associated with upgrades to the state’s rail system to accommodate the transportation of large volumes of spent nuclear fuel.

The Permian Basin is also prone to earthquakes, which have been linked to injection wells associated with fracking. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney has expressed concern that earthquakes could damage Holtec’s storage canisters, jeopardizing the public and the groundwater.

Another concern is that Holtec could go out of business, leaving the canisters to languish and deteriorate, a prospect that many opponents mentioned during legislative committee meetings.
New Mexico has a history of failed cleanups for radioactive waste, including hundreds of uranium mines on the Navajo Nation that have yet to be remediated.

Defenders cite benefits

Patrick O’Brien, a Holtec spokesman, said the company is deeply disappointed in New Mexico’s new law. The proposed storage facility, he said in an emailed statement, is “safe, secure and does not impact the environment negatively.”

The Holtec facility would create jobs and is desperately needed, proponents argue. The nation’s lack of a nuclear waste repository has forced power plants to store their spent fuel on site, at enormous cost to taxpayers. The expense — covered by the federal government — has already reached $9 billion.

The Holtec facility has local backing, O’Brien added. Supporters include business leaders and public officials in Eddy and Lea counties, whose Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance has been promoting the project for years.The facility “is a tremendous economic opportunity for Southeastern New Mexico,” O’Brien wrote. The company, he said, will continue working “to help provide an interim solution to the spent fuel management impasse in the United States.”

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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.

North Texas could be home to nuclear power plant until 2053. Why are residents opposed?

January 19,2023
Haley Samsel, KERA NEWS

Comanche Peak - Image courtesy of NRC
Comanche Peak – Image courtesy of NRC
Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, pictured in 2007, sits about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth and adjacent to Glen Rose in Somervell County. The first unit came online in 1990.

There’s no escaping the fact that Terry McIntire’s family farm sits less than four miles from the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. Every time the Fort Worth resident visits Somervell County to take care of his 96-year-old father, he drives past a warning siren installed near his family cemetery.

“Most people probably don’t even think about it,” McIntire said. “But if there’s an accident, the 10-mile perimeter includes all of Glen Rose and all of our family property. The air would be unsafe to breathe, and probably the land would be uninhabitable forever.”

Comanche Peak’s future in North Texas is also in the air as the plant’s owner, Vistra, petitions the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep reactors online through at least 2053. The company’s current licenses for two nuclear units, which have the capacity to power 1.2 million homes under normal electricity conditions, expire in 2030 and 2033, respectively.

The plant has had a massive presence – both physically and economically – in Somervell County, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, since construction began on nuclear reactors in 1974. Vistra says Comanche Peak is the county’s largest taxpayer, accounting for more than $30 million in state and local taxes per year and more than 600 full-time employees.

Nuclear energy is uniquely positioned to provide reliable, carbon-free power to a country searching for cleaner sources of electricity, Jim Burke, president and CEO of Vistra, said in an October announcement. (While nuclear energy does not produce carbon dioxide, construction of the plants and the transportation of uranium and nuclear waste generates emissions, researchers have found).

“Renewing the licenses of this plant is critical for grid reliability and our environment and is a benefit to the economy, the local community, and our company,” Burke said. “Our team stands ready to continue a proud tradition of safety, dependability, and operational excellence at Comanche Peak, and we are excited to be filing this application for extension.”

That view isn’t shared by all living in the 50-mile radius of the plant, including Tarrant, Hood and Somervell counties. Several residents have expressed concern over safety measures and the plant’s long-term sustainability amid challenges posed by aging infrastructure, drought and low-level earthquakes.

At a Jan. 17 virtual public meeting hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nearly 100 attendees asked questions about how the commission will evaluate the plant’s environmental impact and shared their experiences with Comanche Peak.

Janet Mattern, a southwest Fort Worth resident living within 50 miles of the plant, said the commission has an obligation to educate the public about the risks of extending the life of the reactors. Mattern also serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Tarrant County.

“Recent reports have stated that when nuclear power plants were initially approved in the ‘80s and ‘90s that the NRC underestimated the risks to public safety at that time,” Mattern said. “We need to make sure that those risks are communicated to the public prior to the renewal of this license.”

Susybelle Gosslee, chair on hazardous waste issues for the League of Women Voters of Texas, asked the NRC to consider how the increasing frequency of drought conditions could lead to more wildfires and limit the availability of water for plant operations. Rita Beving of Dallas urged agency staff to dig into how natural gas drilling in the region could lead to more earthquakes near the plant.

Beving expressed concern that the plant’s safety measures did not account for higher seismic activity, which researchers have connected to deep injection wells and fracking.

“This plant needs further scrutiny and further evaluation,” Beving said. “Even though I know officials have been very pleased with this plant, everyone should be very concerned as this plant ages since some of its components have been around since the 1980s.”

Before the meeting, Vistra spokesperson Meranda Cohn said there is a considerable safety margin between seismic activity the plant is built to handle and any potential seismic activity in the area. All recorded earthquakes in the area have fallen well within that margin, Cohn said.

There is no potential for “toxic runoff” at Comanche Peak, she added. The plant must constantly release water from Squaw Creek Reservoir into the Brazos River, and the water is routinely monitored to ensure it meets state and federal standards, Cohn said.
“Our highest priority is the safety of the public, our people, and our plants,” Cohn wrote. “Comanche Peak is designed to meet the stringent requirements of the NRC, and it meets all codes, standards, and regulations with respect to safe operations and environmental impacts.”

Comanche Peak also received testimonies of support from community leaders, including Glen Rose ISD Superintendent Trig Overbo and Somervell County Judge Danny Chambers. Plant staff have always been good neighbors, Chambers said, and county staff are regularly in contact with Comanche Peak leaders.

Residents with concerns should visit the plant’s visitors’ center and get their questions answered, he added.

“I don’t have anything bad to say because obviously Somervell County wouldn’t be what it is today without the power plant and without what is injected into our community through the workforce, through the financial output,” Chambers said. “There’s no reason for it not to go on because I don’t know how you’d replace what it puts on the grid without it here today.”

Technical issues prevented several people from unmuting their microphones to ask questions or comment over the course of the meeting, which lasted for more than two hours. The commission originally planned two in-person public meetings in Glen Rose on Jan. 10 but moved the session online due to COVID-19 concerns.

Attendees urged commission staff to host an in-person meeting and delay their deadlines to submit comments or apply for a public hearing. Public comments are due by email or mail by Jan. 30, as are requests for public hearings. Instructions to apply for a public hearing are published on The Federal Register.

“I thank you very much for doing this particular meeting online, but even some of these people have not had access to express their comments,” Gosslee, the League of Women Voters of Texas member, said. “There needs to be a public hearing for the people that live close to it and for the people who live many miles away.”

To qualify for a hearing, members of the public must explain why they’re affected by a nuclear facility and the reasons why they believe a proposed action raises environmental or safety questions, according to NRC guidelines. Scott Burnell, a public affairs officer for the NRC who answered questions at the meeting, said people typically have to show proximity to the plant by being located within a 50-mile radius of the reactor.

McIntire, who stands to inherit his family farm in Somervell County, doesn’t expect the efforts of activists to stop the relicensing of the project. But the NRC should exercise more oversight of the plant – and find a permanent storage location for nuclear waste so that it doesn’t stay in Glen Rose, he said.

“The best we can do is hope that it’ll be safer, and there will be better oversight for the next 20 years,” McIntire said.

How to weigh in on Comanche Peak

Public comments on the Comanche Peak environmental impact review can be submitted at under Docket ID: NRC-2022-0183 or by mail to the following address:

Office of Administration
Mailstop: TWFN-7-A60M
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, D.C. 20555-0001

Requests for extensions to the hearing and comment deadlines can be sent to

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

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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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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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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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