Ruling: Arguments against Peach Bottom nuke license 'too vague'

Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station

A federal licensing board deemed an  anti-nuclear group's arguments in opposition of Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station's second license renewal "much too vague."

Beyond Nuclear — a group opposing the York County plant's application to extend its operating license from 60 years to 80 years — requested a hearing to present two arguments against the renewal, and both were denied in a June 20 ruling.

The group appealed the U.S. Atomic Licensing and Review Board's ruling on July 15, and its members are considering taking the issue to federal court if the decision is not reversed.

The board's ruling stated that there was not enough of a factual or legal basis from Beyond Nuclear for its claims, which made them inadmissible. 

"Beyond Nuclear stated that were a hearing granted, 'the subject would be do we have a

problem and what is the extent of the problem,' and 'if there is a problem, what do we do about it,'" the board noted in its ruling on the hearing.

But this ignores agency precedent, the board noted, admitting there might have been a time when contentions were admitted based on "little more than speculation" and cross examined, but now they require a factual foundation.

Beyond Nuclear has concerns about an extended license for Peach Bottom because it's among only three plants in the country to request operating beyond 60 years, and there are many unknowns with aging equipment, the group says.

The fear is that as a growing number of plants close across the U.S., there will be less "operating experience" to reference for aging management programs — specifically the type of boiling reactor used at Peach Bottom, according to the group.

The GE Mark I boiling water reactor is the same type used in Japan's Fukashima Daiichi plant, where three cores melted down following a tsunami in 2011. Five of those reactors closed as a result of the accident, and since then four more in Japan and three similar GE reactors in the U.S. have closed.

"When you view that argument, it’s not vague and speculative, it’s reality," said Paul Gunter, director of the reactor oversight project at Beyond Nuclear.

But the ALB ruling asserted Beyond Nuclear didn't claim Exelon's aging management programs were inadequate or show what specific safety margins would be affected by a decline.

Exelon Generation owns the Peach Bottom plant and applied for a license extension July 10.

The company's Three Mile Island Unit 1 reactor is scheduled to close in September, and Exelon is currently taking fire from some residents and watchdog group TMI-Alert for choosing an extended decommissioning period.

Beyond Nuclear's contentions also referenced Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations and National Environmental Policy Act standards that require certain risks to be taken into consideration when applying for a license renewal.

The environmental report included in the application should be plant-specific, not generic, to consider risks from Fukashima, Gunter said.

Beyond Nuclear asserted that Exelon did not meet all those legal requirements, but the U.S. Atomic Safety and Licensing Board disagreed.

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Gunter also takes issue with a scientific report requested by the NRC, which formerly recommended that harvesting materials from decommissioned plants for study should be a requirement.

A recent revision removes that recommendation and reduces references of knowledge gaps in developing guidance and criteria for aging plants from 65 to three.

"This has raised a lot of questions," he said.

The group appealed the ruling on its contention with Exelon's environmental impact statement, which would now go before four NRC commissioners. There is no timeline  of when a decision might be reached.

Peach Bottom's license extension review is expected to wrap up in March.