The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) won’t reconsider an agency panel’s rejection of a license for the proposed Calvert Cliffs 3 reactor in Maryland, but it wants staff to start studying the larger issue of foreign ownership of U.S. nuclear power plants.
That’s the upshot of a March 11 decision issued by the five-member commission.
Anti-nuclear groups celebrated given that the decision marks the first time in history that the NRC Commissioners have upheld the denial of a license for a commercial nuclear reactor, and only the second time a license for a commercial nuclear facility has been denied. The first license denial was for a uranium enrichment project in Homer, La., which was denied on environmental justice grounds in 1997, the groups said.
NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s (ASLB) denied the license request for Calvert Cliffs 3 on Aug. 30, 2012. The ASLB found that the project would be in violation of the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits foreign “ownership, control or domination” of a U.S. nuclear reactor.
“On this second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the NRC Commissioners have provided the public with a rare bit of good news,” said Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) Executive Director Michael Mariotte. NIRS brought the foreign ownership issue as a contention to the ASLB in November 2008, along with partner intervenors Public Citizen, Beyond Nuclear and Southern Maryland CARES.
At the same time, the NRC said it is time to start taking a fresh look at commission regulations surrounding foreign ownership of U.S. nuclear units. In the long run that could be good news for UniStar Nuclear. UniStar is wholly owned by Electricite de France, (EDF) which itself is 85% owned by the government of France. Calvert Cliffs 3 was to be an EPR reactor manufactured by the French firm Areva, also majority owned by the French government.
“As the NRC acknowledges in its decision, given the global nature of the nuclear world of today there’s a strong argument to be made for the agency to re-examine its foreign ownership policies,” a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) told GenerationHub. “ We view the NRC’s directive in that area positively,” said the trade group official.
Calvert Cliffs 3 became French-owned after Exelon merger
Back when Calvert Cliffs 3 first sought the combined construction and operating license (COL) application, UniStar was owned in near-equal shares through intermediate parent companies, Baltimore-based Constellation Energy and the French EDG Group.
Since then, Constellation merged into Exelon (NYSE:EXC). In late 2010, the applicants informed the board that EDF had acquired Constellation’s 50% interest in UniStar. Shortly thereafter staff informed the applicants that Calvert Cliffs 3 failed to satisfy NRC’s foreign ownership requirements.
The anti-nuclear advocacy groups successfully argued that the applicants are now ineligible because they are now 100% owned by a foreign corporation, which places it at odds with the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and NRC regulations.
The U.S.-based subsidiaries of the French parent company requested that NRC overturn the ASLB ruling and “provide general guidance to the nuclear industry on the foreign ownership issue.” NRC denied the petition.
“When all the trappings are removed, the relief Applicants seek on appeal is for us to reconsider that [foreign ownership] policy,” NRC said in its opinion. A specific license case is not the proper proceeding for revisiting such an NRC policy, the commission said.
“But we agree that, with the passage of time since the agency first issued substantive guidance on the foreign ownership provision of AEA section 103d, a reassessment is proper,” the commission said. NRC directed the staff “outside the adjudicatory context” to review foreign ownership issues at NRC.
As for the Calvert Cliffs 3 license itself, the applicants failed to raise a substantial issue on appeal. “As indicated above, they have acknowledged that they no longer intend to proceed with the current application as its stands today, but will look instead for a U.S. partner to hold part of EDF’s 100% ownership share.”
The record reflects that the applicants continue their search for a U.S. partner and have not amended their application. Given that situation the NRC said it is reluctant to engage in a “mere academic exercise.”
The NRC also noted that staff’s review of the Calvert Cliffs 3 combined license application is continuing on matters other than foreign ownership. Calvert Cliffs 3 would be located alongside the existing two Calvert Cliffs units along the Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, Md.
The station is about 45 miles from Downtown Washington, D.C.
Constellation and its parent, Exelon, continue to own an interest in the existing two pressurized water reactors (PWRs) at Calvert Cliffs. The two units have a combined generating capacity of about 1,700 MW.
The Calvert Cliffs 3 NRC Docket number is 52-016-COL.