TSEP Opening Statement at Nuclear Regulatory Commission Hearing in Victoria, TX Marks First NRC Proceeding Since Japanese Nuclear Disaster

Mar 16, 2011, 12:20 ET from Texans for a Sound Energy Policy

VICTORIA, Texas, March 16, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Jim Blackburn of TSEP today made the following statement:

(Photo:  http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20110316/DA66342)

Good morning.  I am Jim Blackburn and I am here representing Texans for a Sound Energy Policy or TSEP.  I want to thank you for coming down to the Texas Gulf Coast and holding this hearing. We gather today to consider whether proposed contentions submitted by TSEP should be accepted by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.  TSEP appears today conscious of the serious and unfortunate events in Japan – events, which cannot and should not go unnoticed by the Board.  These events inform us of the seriousness of the issues before the board and the Victoria Community.  Nuclear power is a high risk, high stakes business.  Everyone here should be sobered by the events in Japan and by the seriousness of matters at hand.

TSEP is here today in opposition to the Early Site Permit submitted by Exelon for the Victoria County Station (VCS) proposed facility.  As TSEP understands this process, the goal is to determine if this site is suitable for the construction of one or more nuclear power reactors.  Site suitability includes both safety concerns and environmental impact concerns.  TSEP believes and will argue that this site is neither safe nor environmentally acceptable.  The key to preventing nuclear and environmental disasters is to address site selection honestly, openly and comprehensively.  That is why we are here today.

First, TSEP would note that the VCS is a greenfield site.  It has not been previously vetted.  There is no operating experience at this site.  In fact, there is no nuclear power plant sited on a site with the safety and environmental problems such as those found at VCS.  From a safety perspective, TSEP has raised four proposed contentions.  And from the outset, TSEP would note our concern with the cavalier attitude of Exelon, and with a process that appears designed to deliberately obscure key safety issues regarding the site from the public.

As we understand the position of Exelon, it does not matter if there is faulting, hundreds of oil and gas wells, toxic gas and methane and inadequate water supply as long as the power block itself is not directly affected.  Additionally, there is a total disdain for instability and uncertainty of the geologic platform for this facility.  Essentially, we have a geologic platform of silt and clay that is riddled by fractures and oil and gas penetrations.  The subsurface here is active.  It has cracks.  It is pressured in certain locations.  It has interconnections.  It has active oil and gas extraction.  It can and will change over time.  It has toxic gas and explosive gas.  It poses potential dangers to the safe operation of a nuclear facility and we have an engineering report that supports this position.  Yet we are told in submissions that none of this matters.  TSEP believes that good engineering can address many potential safety issues.  However, you cannot engineer around issues that are not recognized, studied and evaluated.  TSEP argues that is the current situation relative to these safety issues.

And consider water.  Exelon's proposed plan includes a cooling pond that is clearly crossed by two and potentially four subsurface faults.  These faults clearly threaten the stability of the cooling pond.  Exelon does not deny this but instead argues that it does not matter if the cooling pond fails because it is not a safety feature.  It seems that the Japanese situation suggests that a reserve supply of water may in fact be a major safety issue.  Without the salt water to pour on the core as a last resort, the situation in Japan would already have been worse.  There is no such fall-back plan here.  The cooling pond would function as a last resort facility, but it may in fact be breached and drained, assuming sufficient water to fill the pond at all.

Which brings us to water availability.  TSEP avers that Exelon cannot guarantee water at all times and Exelon may even agree with this assessment.  Exelon clearly states that it will simply shut the plant down when the cooling pond levels are too low.  TSEP simply could not believe that response.  We were both surprised and extremely concerned.  Why would someone locate a nuclear power plant at a site without adequate water supply and why would the NRC allow them to locate at such a site?

According to our expert report by Dr. Ron Sass, the potential climate change in this part of the United States will further worsen water supply issues.  Simply stated, this part of the Texas coast is dry and getting dryer.  We are water challenged.  Why would anyone locate a water intensive use such as a nuclear power plant in an area that lacks sufficient water?  There is abundant water in East Texas.  There is salt water at the Matagorda site.  Where does common sense enter into these siting decisions? I shudder when I hear an applicant state that they will simply shut down the facility when the water is short.  That is simply contrary to the notion of adequate site selection.

And then there is the issue of the impact of the water usage on San Antonio Bay, Espiritu Santo Bay, Carlos Bay, Mesquite Bay and Aransas Bay and the endangered whooping crane.  Make no mistake about it.  If Exelon is permitted and uses the GBRA/UCC-Dow water right, it will be taking the last water out of the Guadalupe River at the Salt Water Barrier during a time of drought.  It will prolong the drought of record from 22 months to 40 months relative to the bay.  It will cause long-term damage to the estuary.  It will kill whooping cranes.  

All of this will be to the detriment of the environment, economy and people of the Texas coast.  Livelihoods depend upon our bays.  There is dollar value in the shellfish harvest, in recreational and commercial fishing, in home sales to those who wish to enjoy the coast.  And of course, the whooping crane is a priceless resource. Frankly, we believe that once the full impact of this facility is understood, the impacts upon the bay and whooping crane, particularly in light of climate change, will be extreme.  It will raise impacts of such a magnitude that the costs of mitigation and implications of mitigation will eliminate the site from an economic standpoint if not for violation of the endangered species act.  

As we move forward with discussion of these issues, the question that should be most prominent is why this site?  Why not another – one without the faulting, one without the oil and gas activity, one without a water shortage, one that does not lead to whooping crane mortality?  TSEP reviewed all existing NRC-licensed power plant sites and none had these problems.  The National Environmental Policy Act certainly requires a thorough analysis of alternatives.  At this time, Exelon and the NRC staff have argued that certain of these issues do not raise safety concerns.  We disagree with this. But at the least, they certainly raise alternative site suitability issues.  Cost is a key issue in alternative site selection and alternative evaluation under NEPA.  Cost appears to have been the basis for the rejection of at least one alternative site by Exelon.  However, there are certainly cost issues implicit in shutting down the plant because the cooling pond is dry and there are certainly cost implications in identifying oil and gas wells and ensuring that they are appropriately plugged and cemented, not to mention the potential cost for prevention of mining of oil and gas resources nearby and below the site.  At the least, NEPA requires nothing less than full examination of the alternative site through full disclosure of key issues and their associated costs.

In its submissions, TSEP has met its burden on a solid majority of the submitted contentions.  And it should be remembered that TSEP does not have to prove its case at the contention stage but rather must make a showing of a true factual and/or legal controversy germane to this proceeding.  We have submitted a hundred plus page expert engineering report on safety issue.  We have submitted a statement from a computer modeler regarding bay impacts and we have submitted affidavits from an excellent professor with impeccable credentials on whooping crane impacts as well as climate change impacts.  We are not making wild accusations without basis or reason.  We know the Texas coast and we know the problems at this site.  We simply ask that we be given the chance to bring this knowledge and information before the Licensing Board.

Along these lines, TSEP would note that certain of its proposed contentions have been accepted by Exelon, and even more have been accepted by the NRC staff.  We thank both Exelon and the NRC staff for not opposing issues that they believe are germane and properly presented.  We ask the Board duly note these positions and at the least accept these uncontested contentions.  

In closing, I want to revisit the Japanese situation.  One can only imagine the re-evaluation that is currently occurring – wishing for the chance to revisit certain decisions and possibly certain omissions.  Thankfully, with regard to the Victoria County Station nuclear plant, we are at the beginning of a process to select a site.  The errors and omissions have not yet occurred.  That is the good news.

All of us involved in this process have an obligation to search for the truth and to ensure that important safety or environmental issues are not overlooked.  If this site is not a good one, it is the job of the Licensing Board to so find. This site is truly different from any that has been permitted by the NRC.  It has an unstable geologic platform riddled with holes and crossed by faults with interconnected subsurface layers that provide conduits for pressure and gas to be transferred.   This site has different problems and issues than ever considered by the NRC or ASLB.  We urge that you grant us party status, admit our contentions and allow us to develop and present what we consider to be bona fide issues.  Thank you.  

Texans for a Sound Energy Policy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded as a public service by various family members and entities associated with the original D. M. O'Connor Ranches of Texas.

SOURCE Texans for a Sound Energy Policy