Comanche Peak expansion proponents score with panel's ruling

Opponents of a multibillion-dollar expansion of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant suffered another major blow Tuesday when an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel dismissed three of four remaining contentions against the proposed construction of two reactors.

Plant opponents originally filed 19 contentions as to why the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should not grant licensing to plant operator Luminant for construction and operation of two 1,700-megawatt reactors that would boost Comanche Peak's generating capacity by 148 percent, to 5,700 megawatts.

The panel of three administrative judges previously dismissed most of the contentions.

The panel said in a 14-page order released late Tuesday afternoon that it has only one contention remaining and will rule on it "in the near future."

The panel said it is a "reformulated" contention consisting of elements of earlier contentions that it had found admissible.

Luminant "is pleased with the board's ruling, which is a positive step toward additional safe, dependable nuclear power in Texas," company spokeswoman Ashley Monts said late Tuesday. "We're continuing to pursue the development of the proposed units at Comanche Peak."

The plant is 45 miles southwest of Fort Worth and four miles north of Glen Rose, the county seat of Somervell County.

Plant expansion opponents could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Opponents include the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, Public Citizen, True Cost of Nukes and state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.

Plant opponents have cited an array of concerns about adding reactors, including safety, environmental, water-consumption and nuclear waste issues.

With Tuesday's decision by the licensing board panel, Luminant's biggest barriers to the expansion could be other factors, including the enormous cost, previously estimated at $15 billion to $20 billion by Luminant CEO David Campbell; potential difficulty in securing federal loan guarantees, which Luminant has said are crucial; and Congress' failure to pass new federal regulations to mandate reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Such legislation would make construction of nuclear reactors more attractive compared with coal-fired power plants that generate substantial CO {-2} emissions.

Campbell has said that Luminant hopes to win Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing approval by late 2012 or early 2013 and that the new units could go online in 2018-20, perhaps a year apart.

The power plant expansion would create 5,000 jobs during five years of construction and more than 500 permanent jobs, Texas economist Ray Perryman has estimated.

Luminant has said it believes that the expansion "has the potential to be the largest economic development project in Texas' history."

Jack Z. Smith, 817-390-7724