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Third nuclear reactor denied for Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs

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Plans to build a third reactor at southern Maryland's Calvert Cliffs were halted — perhaps permanently — on Monday as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission upheld its earlier decision to reject the project.

Based largely on the fact that the applicant's parent company is 85 percent owned by the French government, the commission again said "no" to UniStar Nuclear Operating Service's proposal to build and operate the reactor near Lusby.

Unistar's plan initially was denied last summer by the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board; that denial was upheld Monday by the agency's five commissioners.

Opponents of nuclear energy are holding up Monday's decision as a victory in a much larger fight.

"The NRC commissioners have provided the public with a rare bit of good news … Maryland's future is clear: it will be based on clean renewable power, not dirty, dangerous and expensive nuclear reactors," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which has long opposed the project.

The key reason for the denial can be traced to UniStar's parent company, the French company Electricite de France. U.S. law prohibits foreign ownership of U.S. nuclear reactors.

But the commissioners conceded that it may be time to revisit that rule, something UniStar had encouraged in its petition for reconsideration.

"We agree that, with the passage of time since the agency first issued substantive guidance on the foreign ownership [issue] … a reassessment is appropriate," they wrote in their seven-page decision.

UniStar also is seeking a U.S. firm to hold part ownership of the project, which could put the reactor on solid legal footing and give the plan another chance.

If and when that happens, the commissioners will reconsider the application, they said.

Constructed in the mid-1970s, Calvert Cliffs is Maryland's only nuclear power plant.

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