Support, concerns expressed at meeting addressing nuclear in Victoria

Apr 23, 2010 | Victoria Advocate by J.J. Velasquez | Related Press

John and Sue Gibbs own property along the Guadalupe River, right next door to the site of a possible nuclear power plant. They don’t like the idea of being neighbors with the plant.  And they won’t be throwing the energy company a welcoming party if they build there. “That’s the last thing I want is a nuclear plant in Victoria,” John Gibbs said before a public meeting to discuss Exelon Nuclear’s possible presence in Victoria County.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that regulates nuclear activities, reached out to the Victoria community Thursday as part of its pending review of Exelon Nuclear’s early site permit application.

The Gibbses, who were among about 100 people present, have a host of concerns about Exelon’s possible arrival. Their worries extend to environmental issues as well as ecological ones. During the drought of 2009, their cattle walked across the river. They know how much water may be required to cool a nuclear facility’s reactors.

The issue of the proposed plant’s water use figured prominently into the regional water planning group’s public hearing in Victoria on Tuesday. It was revisited during Thursday’s NRC meeting.

“There is a concern about the water,” said Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong during the portion of the meeting for public comment. “There are people that are being paid large sums of money to fight these issues, and they’re going to use whatever subject comes to mind to fight this project.”

Sandra McKenzie, a local attorney, said rising growth in the state population will create a high demand for water. “We have to preserve our water now for the future,” she said.

McKenzie also pointed to the health risks involved when radionuclides are consumed by fish eaters. She said they have been found in the bones of fish near a nuclear facility upstate.

Nuclear power plants produce tritium, a radioactive isotope. NRC Spokesman Scott Burnell acknowledged the issue but said there have been no health risks observed from it. “In every instance where tritium ended up at a U.S. plant, there has been no evidence of it getting into the drinking water, and no evidence of health impacts,” he said. “It is an issue we take seriously. The industry is looking at it very closely. We are following what the industry is doing.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will evaluate safety and environmental impacts during its review of Exelon’s more than 6,000-page early site permit application. The application Exelon Nuclear filed in March would, if approved, allow the company to evaluate whether Victoria could sustain a nuclear power plant while not giving up on the project.

In 2007, Exelon sought permission from the NRC to build and operate a power plant in Victoria County but subsequently withdrew due to the harsh economic climate. The application gives Exelon a “head start” to applying for permission to build, said Janelle Jessie, safety project manager for the NRC.

The review is expected to take about two and a half years, Exelon officials said Thursday during a meeting with the Advocate’s editorial board. The early site permit is valid for 10 to 20 years. If it determines Victoria is indeed a good place to build, it would need to file a combined license application with the NRC. The early site permit does not OK construction.

There will be several opportunities during the review process for the public to participate in the dialogue, Jessie said.

During the early site permit review phase, the agency will conduct a study examining the environmental impacts for which it will hold further public meetings, said Paul Michalak, senior project manager. “These meetings are a way the NRC maintains an open and transparent review process,” he said.

Victoria Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Dale Fowler said the plant would provide 2,700 jobs to Victoria County. He cited a study by Texas economist Ray Perryman. “That means every business in the region has the potential to bring new employees to take care of the spin off business they may receive from this project when it happens,” he said.

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