By BETTY BRINK
For anyone interested in protesting (or supporting) the proposed addition of two new reactors at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, the news is – time is already running out: A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 6 in Glen Rose on the requested permit, and those who want to comment on it need to contact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, by mail or e-mail, by Dec. 30. That would be Tuesday.
People who simply show up without prior notice may also be allowed to speak at the meeting at the Glen Rose Expo Center, but their time at the mic will be limited. And if you want to speak but need special accommodations because of vision problems or physical limitations – too bad. The deadline for requesting those amenities was Dec. 23.
How did such an important issue sneak up on almost everybody? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to informing the general public. The first public notice of the meeting was posted online by the NRC on Dec. 22. But the news wasn’t released to the press until 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve – what looks like a governmental version of the time-honored tradition of businesses (and others) releasing bad news on Friday night, after everyone who could comment on or it explain it has gone home for the weekend, and the least-read newspaper issue of the week (Saturday) is looming.
“The NRC has a notification system that’s supposed to let interested parties know when these events are occurring in a timely fashion, and waiting until Christmas Eve to send that notice out certainly makes it difficult to get citizens alerted in a timely manner,” Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen of Texas, told the Associated Press. The AP released a story late on Christmas Eve.
The permit is being requested by Luminant, the successor company to TXU, which wants to build two advanced-design, pressurized-water reactors, to put out 1,700 megawatts of power each, alongside the two existing 1,150-megawatt reactors, which are now approaching their 20-year lifetimes.
The process of building and licensing the original pair of reactors at Comanche Peak turned into one of the most contentious – and frankly scary – developments that North Texas had seen in many years. By the time the plant was finished, it had come through major problems in the construction process, was hugely over budget and more than 10 years behind schedule, and had gone through a hard-fought licensing process that many believe added greatly to the safety of the plant. During that process, activists often questioned the objectivity of the NRC inspectors involved.
This time around, the Jan. 6 hearings will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. at the Glen Rose Expo Center, 202 Bo Gibbs Blvd. This hearing round is no minor matter. It will begin the process of determining the environmental impact of doubling the nuclear fuel cycle of the plant – including the 800-pound-gorilla question of what to do with spent fuel rods, the deadly, high-level waste that still has no place other than Comanche Peak to call home. The building that now houses the spent fuel from the plant’s operation was originally designed to hold the waste for seven years before it had to be trucked off to a permanent disposal site which at that time was “soon to be announced.” Two decades later, the announcement has yet to come and Comanche Peak, like all nuclear plants in the country, is still storing the deadly stuff in crowded spent fuel pools on site.
The agency is taking written comments on its environmental impact statement up to Feb. 17. Even that may be a short timeframe for fashioning an effective response to the NRC’s lengthy draft report. (The report is posted on the NRC web site at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/comanche-peak.html. Copies are also available at the Somervell County Library, 108 Allen Drive in Glen Rose, and at the Hood County Library, 222 North Travis St., in Granbury.
Since Luminant filed its application in the summer; only one “informational” public meeting has been held. The upcoming one is a door-opener for those who may want to file later to intervene in the full-scale licensing process.
Those wishing to comment at the meeting should contact Michael Willingham or John Finger at 1-800-368-5642, extension 3924 or 6208 for information on where to send written requests to speak. Or e-mail the NRC at Comanche.COLEIS@nrc.gov.