Both Sides Heard at NRC Public Forum
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public forum to hear out local residents on the 20-year license renewal application for the Limerick Generating Station
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held two public meetings on Thursday - one at 2 p.m. and one at 7 p.m. - to present the license renewal process of nuclear reactors and to hear comments from the public.
As a part of the renewal process, the NRC is required to hear the public's opinions and consider them in the approval or denial of nuclear reactor license extensions. Limerick Generating Station's nuclear reactors have licenses good through 2024 and 2029 respectively, so the renewal would extend the use of those reactors through 2044 and 2049.
There are 104 reactors in the United States and 71 are approved for renewal, while 13 (including the two at Limerick) are under review.
Overall, the public honed 30 presentations - a few that were repeated between the two meetings - with both sides being equally heard. Some notable speakers included Pennsylvania State Representative Tom Quigley, Dr. Lewis Cuthbert, president of the Alliance for a Clean Environment, Limerick Supervisor Tom Neafcy, Limerick Police Chief Bill Albany, Pottstown Borough Counselor Jeff Chomnuk, Limerick Generating Station Site Vice President Bill MaGuire, Vice President of License Renewal Mike Gallagher, retired Pottstown radiologist Dr. Fred Winter and many more.
The process of license renewal is a long one, which, if smoothly operated, could conclude in February of 2013. Within the process, the NRC promotes public participation as an important link in the chain, providing several opportunities for members to question certain issues raised with nuclear power.
The evaluation process is broken down into two major categories: safety and environmental issues - both being of question and of no concern on either side.
Cuthbert and his team at ACE conducted an 11-year investigation of the harms and threats to the environment caused by nuclear energy. He and his supporters could not believe that some individuals presented and said there were no environmental or safety issues at Limerick. He gave a list of reasons why Limerick has to be shut down.
"Radiation in the air and water, major air pollution in violence of the Federal Clean Air Act, depletion of the Schuylkill River and contamination of our drinking water," Cuthbert said. "Radioactive groundwater contamination, a dramatic increase in radiation levels after Fukushima, cancer increases, especially in children, after Limerick was built."
Cuthbert went on to say Limerick Generating Station lacks fire safety regulations, there have been accidents and leaks from corroding equipment, inclement risks of meltdowns with more frequent natural disasters, has threats from unregulated terrorist attacks (cyber, plane and missiles), is in desperate need of updated equipment, an increase in PM10 exposure and "26 years of insults to the environment."
He noted a 180-percent increase in the population since 1980, saying the roads haven't changed much, but the population has. Site Communications Manager Joe Szafran chimed in, refuting some of these claims.
"People that have issues with Limerick have longstanding issues with Limerick and have right to the concerns they have," Szafran said. "A lot more members of the community support Limerick Generating Station and would like us to have our license renewed than are against that."
There were multiple residents and presenters that expressed concerns over the urgency of the application. Many asked why renew these reactors 12 or 18 years in advance?
"For us, it's two-fold," said Szafran. "One is the legislation allows us to apply for a license renewal after 20 years, so we're following the law. The second thing is, for us it's making that long-term commitment to the community. When we know we're going to be here for another 20-plus years, we can make long-term investments in the plant and in the community and the community can plan for us to be here halfway through the 21st century. So, I think it actually provides a service to the community for us to say, hey, we're going to be here for a long time. You're invested, we're invested, we're a team, let's work together and make this community the best it can be."
Quigley was one of the speakers in major support of the extension of the license at Limerick. A resident of Royersford, Quigley has lived close to the reactors with comfort. His main talking point was the fact that more people are concerned about other happenings in the area than in the station's reactor renewal.
"I knew there were going to be some pros and cons to this issue," Quigley said. "In my experience in the past seven years, there have been other issues that have always trumped whatever is reported to be a problem here at the nuclear power plant - the most recent one being the tolling of 422. I've received over 100 emails and calls about that and in the past six months when you look at what happened with the earthquake here and what happened in Japan - two calls about the generating station."
Quigley was also impressed with the fact that 563 employees of Limerick Generating Station live within the 10 mile radius. He asked if those people would put their families at risk if they knew the reactors were unsafe.
Overall, the meeting did not get rowdy and the public, regardless of opinion, seemed rather impressed with the conduct at the meeting, although a few members questioned each other and the NRC on conduct. One woman said the NRC has become dishonest over the years and has swept the truth under the carpet. Neafcy, Albany and Chomnuk applauded Exelon for funds raised in the community, a safe and comfortable environment within the station and for being a great neighbor.
The public is urged to continue to send in comments by email, fax and snail mail. All information can be found at www.regulations.gov and questions about that process forwarded to Lisa Regner. All correspondence is due by Oct. 28.