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Groups File Opposition to Fermi 3

by Charles Slat, The Monroe News, March 11, 2009

A coalition of citizen groups is asking federal regulators to reject DTE Energy's plans to build a new Fermi 3 nuclear power plant, contending that it would pose a range of threats to public health and the environment. The groups have filed 14 contentions with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, seeking to intervene in the licensing process and claiming that a new plant would pose "radioactive, toxic and thermal impacts on Lake Erie's vulnerable western basin."

DTE Energy, which already operates the Fermi 2 reactor near Newport, is considering building a Fermi 3 plant at the same site, using a new and as-yet unapproved design.

"For starters, this plant is not needed and we're prepared to demonstrate that," said Michael Keegan of Monroe, a member of Don't Waste Michigan, one of the groups opposing the project. "We have national experts and former NRC commissioners - some of the nation's best minds - who helped compile this document.

"The proposed Fermi 3 would represent another half-century of safety and security risks for the Great Lakes shoreline," he said. "Many concerned local residents don't want to play yet another round of radioactive Russian roulette."

The groups say that the environmental impacts of the proposed plant have not been determined adequately and the government probably should determine the plant's environmental impact on a regional basis rather than just the local impact.

Other contentions are that there is no good way to dispose of the radioactive wastes and fuel the plant generates and that the design of the plant DTE is considering should have been approved before the licensing process began. DTE filed an application for a federal license to build and operate the plant late last year. It said it has not committed to building the plant but met a deadline that would make it eligible for federal incentives if it decided to proceed.

It has been operating the present Fermi 2 nuclear plant since January, 1988.

The idea alternately has been hailed as a potential boon to the economy, a job-creator and a way to meet future energy needs and condemned as a threat to safety and the environment and an unwarranted burden on electric customers. The environmental coalition met a federal deadline this week for filing arguments with the NRC. If the federal Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) finds the arguments have merit, the coalition would be granted intervener status and hearings would be held on the claims.

NRC officials said Tuesday they weren't sure when the agency might begin reviewing the environmental groups' contentions regarding the Fermi 3 plant. "It takes a couple of months, usually, for the ASLB to make a decision," said Victoria Mytling, an NRC spokeswoman.

"It's a very loaded game," Mr. Keegan said. "The ASLB has a high hurdle and evidentiary evidence has to be presented up front, and we've done that. We have a multitude of experts to speak on our behalf."

The coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club.

The coalition said it objected to Fermi 3's radioactive, toxic, and thermal impacts "especially considering the cumulative damage already occurring in the Great Lakes due to the presence of 33 operating atomic reactors, and dozens of additional coal fired power plants."

"Efficiency and renewable, such as solar and wind, could readily replace the dirty, dangerous and expensive Fermi 3 proposal," said Terry Lodge, the Toledo-based legal counsel to the coalition. "And they could do so much more cleanly, safely, and affordably."

"As Fermi 2's storage pool is full to the gills, and vulnerable to accident or attack, Detroit Edison proposes to generate yet more radioactive waste it doesn't know what to do with," said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a national watchdog group in Takoma Park, Md. "With President Obama indicating the end of the Yucca Mountain dumpsite proposal in Nevada, forever deadly radioactive wastes generated by Fermi 2 and 3 would continue to pile up on the Lake Erie shoreline with nowhere to go," he added.

"Taxpayers and ratepayers should not be forced to further subsidize the already heavily subsidized nuclear power and coal industries," said Ed McArdle of the Sierra Club. "We believe the electricity from Fermi 3 will not even be needed." Many of the contentions cite a lack of sufficient information on which to base a licensing decision.

"These are all unanswered questions and they're not giving answers. They're just saying give us the green light," Mr. Keegan said. "This Fermi 3 plant is not going to get out of the blocks."