Fermi 3 plans face legal fight

The Windsor Star: Dalson Chen - March 12, 2009

A coalition of environmental groups from Windsor and across the border has filed legal contentions against the proposed Fermi 3 nuclear reactor in Michigan.

"Ultimately, we hope that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will reject the application by (Detroit power company) DTE for Fermi 3," said Derek Coronado of the Windsor-based Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario.

Coronado said the Citizens Environment Alliance joined U.S. groups Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan and the Sierra Club in sending a 150-page file to the NRC on Monday.

The filing consists of 14 legal contentions urging that the regulatory commission not approve plans to build a new atomic energy facility in Newport, Mich. -- about 50 kilometres from downtown Windsor and less than 20 kilometres from Amherstburg.

According to the coalition, such a facility would have "radioactive, toxic and thermal impacts on Lake Erie's vulnerable western basin."

The coalition describes DTE's track record on nuclear safety with Fermi 1 and Fermi 2 as "abysmal," and calls Fermi 3 "yet another round of radioactive Russian roulette."

"The actual high-level radioactive waste has no permanent storage site on either side of the border," Coronado said. "Overall, you are looking at a big, hazardous waste mess when you go with nuclear."

But DTE spokesman John Austerberry said Fermi 3 is only in the consideration phase, although applications have been made. "We have not made a decision to build a plant," Austerberry said.

Austerberry said DTE's first priority is to develop renewable energy sources and maximize efficiency, but the company recognizes a need for more "base-load" power plants in the long term.

Ron May, DTE's senior vice-president of major projects, said the nuclear power "is the best choice for replacing older fossil-fuel plants."

"We need to supply power to meet customer demands at all times, even when the wind does not blow and the sun doesn't shine," May wrote in a release.

May said plant storage of "spent fuel" is carefully regulated and "proven to be safe and secure."

May took issue with the environmental coalition's characterization of past incidents at Fermi 1 and Fermi 2. "In fact, neither of the incidents had any measurable effect on the environment."

Coronado said he doesn't expect Fermi 3's environmental assessment to conclude until 2010. After that, it could be a decade before construction is complete.

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