- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

Maryland is leading a race to build the first U.S. nuclear reactor in more than 30 years as the result of a deal by Gov. Martin O’Malley that would bring millions of dollars in federal tax credits to Constellation Energy.

“We’re definitely going to get a third reactor,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “It was a major aspect of the agreement between the state and Constellation that was always in the backs of the minds of myself and the governor and others in Calvert County.”

The deal was part of legislation passed with little fanfare at the close this month of the 2008 General Assembly.

Critics say Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, and the Democrat-controlled Assembly hastily agreed to the deal because Constellation wants to build the reactor in New York.

“The O’Malley administration explicitly approves [the deal] without affording those citizens who may want to object due process of law or even a right to be heard,” said Delegate Susan L.M. Aumann, Baltimore County Republican.

Constellation Energy, which owns the Calvert Cliffs Power Plant in Lusby, is one of only five companies nationwide that have completed applications for new nuclear reactors in 30 years.

While the new reactor would almost double the generating capacity at Calvert Cliffs and provide cheaper electricity for Marylanders, it also would improve Constellation’s opportunity to get back more than $100 million in federal tax credits each year.

The company has since 1977 operated two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs, which generate more than 1,700 megawatts of electricity. The proposed third reactor is expected to generate at least 1,600 megawatts.

The National Energy Policy Act, signed by President Bush in 2005, offers a tax credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt/hour for the next six nuclear reactors built in the U.S. It also guarantees 80 percent of loans needed to build new nuclear reactors.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects 22 applications for 33 new reactors to be filed in the coming years, with Constellation at the front.

“They are among the first few utilities that are in a position to make it through the licensing process,” agency spokesman Scott Burnell said.

The legislation in Maryland approved a settlement between the state and Constellation that grants $2 billion in rebates to ratepayersand eases the company’s ability to finance construction of the third reactor by stripping public oversight provisions in the state’s energy laws.

“Maryland laws regarding investment in companies owning regulated utilities are more restrictive than in many states and updating these statutes was a key priority,” Constellation said.

The interest in nuclear energy largely ended in the late 1970s and mid-1980s after a series a mishaps forced companies to close reactors.

However, the debate over global warming — which surfaced in the 2008 presidential campaigns — has in part renewed interest in nuclear energy.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards criticized Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the campaign trail for not taking an clear, hard stance against nuclear energy.

Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, supports expanding nuclear-energy production, but not until the public has more access to the information and nuclear fuel and waste can be more secured, according to his Web site.

Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat and the other remaining Democratic Party candidate, opposes additional subsidies for nuclear energy plants and would like to strengthen Nuclear Regulatory Commission powers. She also would support renewable energy development over nuclear energy, according to her Web site.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, supports advancements in nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions and the country’s dependence on foreign energy supplies.

Constellation said Thursday it is waiting to secure a federal loan guarantee before moving forward but would like to break ground as early as December.

Company executives last month presented a rough timeline in which the reactor would be completed by mid-2015.

“Constellation is very well positioned to build, if not the first, one of the first nuclear plants built in the United States,” spokeswoman Maureen Brown said.

Most mainstream environmental groups oppose nuclear energy, particularly as a solution to concerns about climate change, despite efforts to convince people otherwise, said Jon Block of the Union for Concern Scientists, a nonpartisan think tank in the District.

“There are so many other approaches that are more cost effective, especially in the short term,” he said Thursday. He cited such alternatives as wind or solar power and residents being more energy efficient.

However, there is no consensus.

Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, joined former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 2006 to co-chairman the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition — a group backed by the nuclear industry that supports increased nuclear energy to curb pollution.

Supporters say the need for new energy coupled with a demand for clean energy has made nuclear energy a logical choice.

“What that boils down to is you need to build a new large baseload,” said Mitch Singer, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which lobbies on behalf of nuclear energy companies. “By process of deductive reasoning … nuclear seems to fit that bill.”

The issue also has put Mr. O’Malley at odds with Maryland-based environmental groups, including Environment Maryland and Maryland PIRG, which largely support his environmental-friendly agenda.

Johanna Neumann, state director for Maryland PIRG, called Constellation’s plan “a step in the wrong direction.”

The proposed reactor also has divided residents in Southern Maryland.

“This is coming a lot sooner than we think,” said Sam Young, president of Calvert Commercial Real Estate Brokerage, which plans to develop 16 acres across from the power plant.

Denise Newton, 42, of St. Leonard’s, one town north of the plant, said she is concerned about her four children and a possible link between increased cases of autism near nuclear reactors. “It’s scary,” she said. “It’s very, very scary.”

Mr. Young and other supporters say the new reactor is necessary to sustain development and provide cheaper energy to the state, despite safety concerns. “I think it’s a part of life and a part of living,” he said.

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