Grand Gulf expansion opponents denied appeal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 20, 2005

[1/20/05]Opponents of expansion at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station have been denied an appeal to argue that the plan would disparately affect black residents.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission upheld Tuesday a ruling that the NAACP, the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club and two Washington, D.C., organizations would not be allowed to present their case for “environmental justice.”

The parent company of Entergy Nuclear is in the process called early site approval that could lead to a permit to build a second reactor at Mississippi’s only nuclear-powered generating plant. If the permit is issued, Entergy would have 20 years to make a decision whether to spend another $3 billion in Claiborne County.

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The current Grand Gulf reactor began operation in 1985 and its operating permit expires in 2024.

The application “would double the risk but provide no substantial benefit to a minority population already ill-equipped to cope with the environmental and health consequences of a nuclear accident, sabotage or routine radioactive releases,” the Washington, D.C., group Nuclear Information and Resource Service said Wednesday in a press release.

The director of the group’s Reactor Watchdog Program, Paul Gunter, has helped lead opposition to the application. Opponents have cited the county’s racial mix and the Legislature’s reallocation of tax revenue from Grand Gulf to a broader area surrounding the plant in arguing that the plan amounts to “environmental racism” against black people, who make up 84 percent of Claiborne County’s population. Also, 32.4 percent of the county’s population lives on income below the poverty line, the NIRS’ release added.

“The decision this week by a commission sitting in its ivory tower trivializes Dr. King’s legacy,” said Gunter. “The decision shows that racial discrimination is alive and well in this country, and worse still in Mississippi, the cradle of the civil rights movement.”

The governing boards of both Claiborne County and Port Gibson have unanimously endorsed Entergy’s application. At the same time, the Claiborne Board of Supervisors has employed Mike Espy, former U.S. representative and secretary of agriculture, to represent its interest in claiming a larger financial share of taxes on any future construction.

Initially, Claiborne received $16 million per year in state-set taxes on the plant. After the Legislature ordered the split, that was halved.

The NRC expects to hold a public meeting in Port Gibson this spring or summer to discuss the draft environmental statement it has been preparing. Public comments were also accepted in January 2004, near the beginning of the development of that statement.

Entergy’s Carl Crawford said the company was pleased with the NRC’s decision because it moves it one step closer to keeping open the option to build a second reactor.

“We will continue to work with interested Claiborne County and state leaders on issues they have an interest in,” Crawford said.

“We have strong support from Claiborne County and the state of Mississippi and we would expect to work to make that continue.”

The ruling was on an appeal the opposing groups made from one by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a subordinate panel to the NRC. They had also argued before the ASLB on other grounds, including site suitability and emergency planning, but they had appealed only on their argument that they should be allowed to argue to the NRC that Entergy’s application is environmentally unjust.