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Groups Seek to Stop Relicensing of Nuclear Plants

HOUSTON - A coalition of East Coast environmental and anti-nuclear groups filed a petition with U.S. regulators on Thursday to suspend all pending relicensing efforts by nuclear reactors in the United States.

A coalition called Stop the Relicensing of Oyster Creek joined with Riverkeeper to petition the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend the license renewal process "until objective and independent analysis" is used, the groups said in a release.

The coalition, six environmental and citizen's groups, initially joined together to oppose a 20-year extension of Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey. Without a license extension, Exelon would have to shut Oyster Creek, the oldest operating reactor in the nation, in 2009.

The petition filed on Thursday expanded the group's opposition to all pending relicensing efforts nationwide.

Pilgrim Watch and the New England Coalition joined in the filing which criticized the NRC for copying sections of safety documentation supplied by nuclear operators, citing a September audit report from the NRC's Office of Inspector General. The petition contends that NRC staff should write separate evaluations.

The inspector's report "makes it clear that the current NRC license renewal process is a failure and must be completely reevaluated before another plant is relicensed," said Phillip Musegaas, a lawyer with Riverkeeper.

The groups called for an end to pending license renewal proceedings until an independent investigation occurs and the NRC process is revised to ensure consistency and staff review of safety documentation, according to a release.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the commission's legal staff would review the petition "to determine if there is any basis for action by the agency."

Burnell disputed the filing's characterization of the inspector's report. "The staff does independent, objective review and does come to its own conclusions on whether these applications meet our specifications," Burnell said.

The NRC is reviewing the inspector's audit "to see what the staff can improve," in such areas as speaking with its own voice, Burnell said.

Exelon spokesman Craig Nesbit disagreed with the coalition's contention. "The licensing renewal process is extensive, years long, involves thousands of pages of data. It's extremely comprehensive," Nesbit said.

The coalition, Stop the Relicensing of Oyster Creek, includes the New Jersey Environmental Federation, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, New Jersey Sierra Club, NJ Public Interest Research Group, Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch and Grandmothers, Mothers, and More for Energy Safety.

Earlier Thursday, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said Exelon's coastal management plan for Oyster Creek was consistent with a state plan, an Oyster Creek spokeswoman said.

The decision by the state was the last step needed before the NRC decides whether to relicense the 619-megawatt reactor.

The agency has said it could make a decision this month.

Reporting by Eileen O'Grady; Editing by David Gregorio.

© 2008 Reuters

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