Augusta Free Press

Groups call on Dominion to abandon plans for North Anna 3 reactor

Today 15 organizations announced they have come together to form Not on Our Fault Line, an alliance that will oppose Dominion Virginia Power’s plans for a new nuclear reactor in Louisa County adjacent to the site of the North Anna Reactors 1 & 2.

“We are calling on Dominion Virginia Power to abandon its plans for the North Anna 3 reactor because this project is too costly and too risky,” said Jerry Rosenthal, a Louisa County resident, and member of the People’s Alliance for Clean Energy.

The price tag for the proposed North Anna 3 nuclear reactor would be “far north of ten billion dollars” according to Daniel Weekley, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Dominion, who made that comment to legislators in testimony before a Special Joint Subcommittee of the House and Senate Committees on Commerce and Labor on January 13, 2015.

“The North Anna 3 nuclear reactor is too costly because that $10+ billion price tag for a new nuclear reactor could raise our utility bills ‘far north’ of a 40% increase[1],” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director for the Sierra Club. “Dominion needs to be investing in efficiency, solar and wind energy all of which are far cheaper that nuclear power.” [2]

The nuclear power industry has had a history of long construction delays and massive cost overruns in bringing new plants on line. Just last week, Georgia Power announced delays and costs overruns at it Vogtle nuclear reactor, now under construction, that could exceed $4 billion.[3]

“A new nuclear reactor at North Anna is also too risky,’ said Erica Gray, Nuclear Issues Chair for the Virginia Sierra Club.  “This reactor would be built on an existing fault line and just 11 miles from the epicenter of a 2011 earthquake that exceeded the design standards of the two existing reactors and cracked the Washington Monument some eighty miles away. Additionally, it is a new reactor design that has never been built and operated commercially.”

“When things go seriously wrong, a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima and Chernobyl is a human and an economic disaster,” said Gray.  “More than 21,000 people live within 10 miles of North Anna and 1.6 million live within fifty miles including the cities of Richmond, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. We can’t even imagine the costs in human suffering and economic loss if we had to evacuate all these people for months or permanently.”

“The August 23, 2011, earthquake was a rude wake up call.  25 of 27 casks, weighing in excess of 100 tons, in which Dominion stores high level nuclear waste moved as much as 4 1/2 inches as a result of the quake,” noted Gray. “Dominion and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may say there was no permanent damage, but numerous leaks and even broken fuel rods discovered since the quake suggest otherwise.”

“Geologists are still studying the 2011 quake and the prospects that we could see future, possibly stronger earthquakes[4],” said Gray, “but Dominion and the NRC seem as concerned about this risk as they were in the 1970s when they hid information about a fault line from the public.”

The questionable seismic suitability of the North Anna site has been known for over forty years[5]. In 1969, during construction of the two reactors that currently occupy the North Anna site, VEPCO, now known as Dominion Virginia Power, discovered that the site was underlain by an earthquake fault, but hid that fact from the public and federal regulators for nearly four years.  It was not until May 1973, that Dominion formally disclosed in a letter to federal regulators the existence the fault and that letter was not shared with the public for another three months. In 1975 the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board found that Dominion Virginia Power had lied about the fault and fined the company $60,000 which was later reduced to $32,000.

During the four years that Dominion covered up the fault, construction continued, and with construction so far along the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed the plant to proceed. Criminal charges were never filed in the case after the U.S. Justice Department concluded that the federal agency in charge of the permit had colluded with Dominion to cover up the discovery of the fault making the case too difficult to prosecute.

Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff recommended that the Commission grant Detroit Edison a combined operating license for the proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant[6] which is based on the same new reactor design as North Anna 3.

“We are very concerned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could issue a permit to Dominion for North Anna 3, despite the risk of earthquakes, in the next 12 to 18 months,” said Gray.

“The North Anna 3 nuclear reactor is just too costly and too risky,” said Rosenthal, and. Dominion needs to stop wasting their customers’ money on a project that will never get completed even if it is permitted by the NRC.”

“While there are some who argue that nuclear power may be an alternative to fossil fuels in addressing climate change” observed Besa, “even if you are of that opinion, you would not knowingly build a nuclear reactor near an active fault line. That’s just dumb.”

“We’re going to oppose Dominion, and we are going to stop the North Anna 3 nuclear reactor,” said Rosenthal.