The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that there are no significant environmental hurdles that should trip up extension of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant's license through 2036.
The conclusions in the NRC's final environmental impact study regarding the power generator in Lusby help clear the way for the nation's first renewal of a nuclear plant license.
"The significance of the potential environmental effects of renewal of the operating license is small," the NRC wrote in its report, issued Thursday.
Constellation Energy Group Inc., the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. parent that has sought permission to extend the licenses of its two nuclear reactors in Southern Maryland, said the NRC could finalize the 20-year license renewal by spring. The current licenses expire in 2014 and 2016.
Initially, the Baltimore-based utility thought that the license renewal process would take as long as five years, but NRC expedited the timetable because of congressional and industry pressure.
In April 1998, Calvert Cliffs became the first nuclear generating facility in the country to seek a license renewal. In all, more than 100 U.S. nuclear plants could face the same process.
Calvert Cliffs, which produces 40 percent of the region's power, has been operating since July 1974.
As part of the renewal process, Constellation is spending $500 million to replace the plant's two steam generators.
Although the environmental impact statement represented one of the most significant regulatory obstacles to relicensing, it is by no means the last.
The relicensing could be affected by a lawsuit against the NRC in the U.S. Court of Appeals filed by a citizens group that contends that sufficient public review has not occurred.
The National Whistleblowers Center claims that the NRC failed to allow independent analysts enough time to study safety aspects relating to the renewal. "There was no due process for the public," said Stephen Kohn, an attorney for the center.
Karl R. Neddenien, a Constellation spokesman, disputed the group's claims and said the NRC "set up an effective program, and the opportunity was given at two separate forums for public input and participation."
Other citizens advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, have also criticized the relicensing process as incomplete and ineffective.
Additionally, the NRC will conduct further safety reviews, and other government entities -- including the Environmental Protection Agency -- will also scrutinize the NRC report.