Frustrating those who question the wisdom of expanding the South Texas Nuclear Project, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted the application to build and operated two new nukes at the Matagorda site. That is, they accepted the application despite finding major gaps in it that have frozen the review process.

While that may delay the potential permitting by a year or so, NRC officials have not offered to leave the door open for the public to comment on the new information as it comes in. Smitty Smith, Public Citizen's resident bulldog in the state, harped on the NRC reps repeatedly on this point at last week's Bay City hearing.

Others were concerned that the application fails to identify alternatives to new nuclear power for San Antonio, Houston, and the deregulated market in the Lone Star State.
Austin, a 16-percent partner in STNP nuke plants 1&2, said the expansion it too risky to join.

Austin Energy will recommend to the City Council next week that Austin not participate, based on a consultant's analysis of NRG's proposal. Six members of the council said this week they will support the Austin Energy recommendation.

Nuclear power is a political hot potato in Austin. But Mayor Will Wynn said this decision was not about politics or the city's policy on using nuclear power.

Having only 90 days to evaluate the option, Wynn said, "takes the politics out of it."

Instead, it was a business decision stemming from the consultant's determination that NRG's cost estimate and timeline were "overly optimistic." Austin would be assuming too much financial risk based on too little information, Wynn said.

NRG estimates the expansion will cost $6 billion and take seven to eight years to complete.

Austin's consultant, Worley Parsons Resources & Energy of Houston, determined that the expansion's cost could be at least $1 billion more than estimated and take two years longer, according to a memo to the City Council. The consultant was hired in December for $205,625.

Three days after the February 5 hearings, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEED), Public Citizen, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Beyond Nuclear, and the Sierra Club called on the NRC to stop the clock on the public's right to comment on the application.

It's almost comical. NRG chose to go with an already-permitted, older model of power plant because they thought it would grease their way through the NRC. However, CPS officials told me months back that the NRC had reordered its staff with expectations that the rush for new nuke permits following the billions in incentives from Congress would naturally zero in on the safer, more reliable New Generation plants. Instead, the Feds had to scramble to reorder their seats again after the unexpected older plant model chosen by NRG. And now it appears the application was so rushed that it is deemed, if not technically "incomplete," at least unworkable.

According to the February 8 petition filed by Public Citizen and crew:

Now, additional correspondence -- placed on the NRC's Agency Document Access and Management System ("ADAMS") within the last eight days – shows that neither STPNOC nor the NRC Staff believes that the Staff has any basis for continuing its review of most of the application until STPNOC makes major changes to it … These changes may include modifications to the certified standardized design for the advanced boiling water reactor ("ABWR") on which STPNOC's application relies. Id. The Staff does not intend to resume review of the greater part of the application, or even establish a schedule for its review, until STPNOC submits necessary revisions to the COL application.

So the question is, how can the public understand, much less challenge or comment upon an incomplete application? Still the deadline of February 25 looms for any would-be challenge or request for a public hearing on the application.

San Antonio's Southwest Worker's Union joined the legal resistance this week, urging the NRC to halt its license review and extend public comment through the summer, and maybe then some.

Their attorney Lanny Sinkin writes:

Overall, the course of conduct followed by the `Nuclear Regulatory` Commission suggests a concerted effort to thwart the efforts of citizens to become informed participants in a decision making process that has very serious potential impacts on their lives.
As one of the first proposed reactors in what may be a large number of such applications, the process followed in this proceeding may portend a tactic to be used nationally to suppress or inhibit interventions.

Petitioner is fully aware of the tremendous burden being placed on the NRC staff. The agency is dealing with (1) an aging group of operating reactors more prone to breakdowns, equipment failures, and accidents and, therefore, requiring heightened oversight; (2) a flood of new applications for construction and operating licenses requiring review of extensive materials submitted by license applicants; (3) large numbers of experienced staff retiring; (4) hiring large numbers of new staff; (4) training large numbers of new staff; (5) assigning major responsibilities to inexperienced staff; and (6) updating key studies and documents that are seriously out of date.

Under these circumstances, there is a natural tendency on the part of the agency to try to reduce its workload. Keeping out intervenors and their potential contentions would help achieve that purpose. Such a plan, however, would violate the rights of those excluded and the policies and rules the Commission claims to follow. In an endeavor where close observation of the rules is critical, the Commission should set the example of compliance.

The most appropriate relief is to rescind the improvident acceptance of the application for docketing and restore the application to tendered status, until such time as the application is complete and the applicant and NRC staff are prepared to initiate a comprehensive review.

If you haven't endured enough nuke legalese yet, check out the NRG/CPS's application (such as it is) online with the NRC. Scroll down until you see South Texas Project toward the bottom of the first column.

In other energy news, two-fisted NRG, trying to whallop us with a left-handed nuke deal, is also pursuing a kinder, gentler, renewable Texas with a West Texas wind investment along with British Petroleum.

NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NRG) through its wholly owned subsidiary, Padoma Wind Power LLC, has entered into a 50-50 joint venture with BP Alternative Energy North America Inc. to build the first phase of the Sherbino Wind Farm in west Texas.

The Sherbino I Wind Farm will be a 150-megawatt (MW) wind project, consisting of 50 Vestas 3 MW wind turbine generators, located approximately 40 miles east of Fort Stockton in Pecos County, Texas, according to a release.

Of course, they also can't keep their hands out of the coal (gasification) bin.

SOMERSET — With a man-sized penguin outside in the cold trying to draw people in, members of an environmental coalition tried to rally opposition to plans by NRG Energy to turn its coal-fired power plant into a facility that uses superheated gas to turn coal and biofuels into synthetic natural gas.

Although the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has given the proposal a green light, environmentalists are appealing the decision, contending that NRG should be required to comply with its original promise to either shut the plant down or covert to clean natural gas by 2010.

Remember, NRG is Hillary's campaign cash bundler of at least $100,000. And Obama is knee-deep with raging nuke pollutor Excellon, now pursuing a plant outside Corpus Christi.

Both Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were nastier than we thought.

But, hey, y'all are the public. You get to decide all this stuff in the end.

Just don't say no one warned you.

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