U.S.: NRC ADOPTS "JIM CROW" POLICY FOR NUCLEAR LICENSING

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#616
01/10/2004
Article

(October 1, 2004) On 6 August, 2004, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) again raised the issue of racial discrimination in denying the Claiborne County NAACP, NIRS, Public Citizen and the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club a legal hearing on contentions that a lingering policy of racism and adverse impacts on the county residents' health and safety was not fairly evaluated in an application to expand the Grand Gulf nuclear power station site for new reactor construction. The coalition has appealed to the Commission.

(616.5640) NIRS - Grand Gulf nuclear power station sits in a bend on the red banks of the Mississippi River just outside of Port Gibson, Mississippi. Its white steam cloud billowing from its cooling tower can be seen far and wide over the flat miles of cotton, soybean and kudzu-laden fields of Claiborne County, an area steeped in the civil rights struggle of the 1960's. Claiborne County was the site of a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) boycott of the local white segregationist merchants that prevailed in a U.S. Supreme Court decision successfully challenging the "Jim Crow" era in American history when southern states systematically codified laws and state constitutional provisions that demeaned and subordinated African Americans into a society of legalized segregation and poverty.

Today, this community, of 84% African Americans from one of the poorest areas of the United States, is once again caught up in a controversial power struggle - the nuclear power struggle. It is a struggle illustrated by deep-seated discrimination and by the callous mistreatment of a poor minority community at one of the NRC and nuclear industry's carefully orchestrated staging grounds for a so-called "Nuclear Revival" of "advanced" reactor construction.

Central to the controversy was the publication, in the 24 August, 2004 Federal Register, of the NRC's final policy statement on "environmental justice" (EJ), the all-too-familiar occurrence where poor minority communities are systematically singled out to suffer disproportionately at the hands of industrial polluters with little to no benefits, such as jobs, from their ordeal. (See also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 599.5558: "U.S. NRC issues proposed and weakened environmental justice policy". Taking its lead from a letter written by the Nuclear Energy Institute, NRC set a course to declare its sovereignty, and that of its licensees, from an Executive Order issued by President Bill Clinton in 1994 that called on all federal agencies to incorporate environmental justice considerations into their respective mission statements and licensing procedures. The Executive Order was the result of a decade of civil rights and environmental activism supported by a host of published reports documenting that poor, rural and minority communities are the most vulnerable and favored targets for new hazardous and polluting industry sites. NRC Chairman Nils Diaz along with Commissioners Edward McGaffigan and Jeffrey Merrifield took it upon themselves to revoke the agency's pledge to support the Clinton Executive Order made under the watch of then-Chairman Dr. Ivan Selin.

NRC now claims it will no longer separately consider legal challenges that are based in statements of fact that a community is being discriminated against and disproportionately impacted by nuclear industry development in its licensing proceedings.

In October 2003, New Orleans-based Entergy Nuclear submitted an application under the new Early Site Permit (ESP) licensing procedure to expand the Grand Gulf site for the construction of more than 2000 megawatts of electricity. Crafted earlier by NRC and the industry, the ESP was set up as a speedy conveyer over environmental impediments to site selection and expansion for new reactor construction. The nuclear power industry is now preparing to "bank" selected sites at Grand Gulf as well as North Anna in Virginia and Clinton nuclear power station in Illinois to await the submittal of a Combined Operating License application where NRC and operator would seek to simultaneously grant both the construction and operating license for new reactors before the first shovel of dirt is thrown at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The facts pertaining to the environmental justice complaint at Grand Gulf are a classic textbook case of racial discrimination compounded by the hazards of nuclear power development.

At the root of the complaint, the City of Port Gibson and Claiborne County had been promised a renaissance when the first unit came online in 1985; new fire stations, new schools, miles of paved roads and tens of millions of dollars in annual taxes on the nuclear property assessment to enliven the depressed rural and agriculture economy.

However, an exorbitantly expensive "Grand Goof" plugged into the rate base threatened Mississippi electricity customers with very large utility bills. Claiborne County activists have charged that Entergy management quietly lobbied the Mississippi State Legislature to introduce legislation allowing the State to seize county tax assessments on any nuclear reactors operating in Mississippi in 1986. The newly opened Grand Gulf nuclear power station was the only nuke in the State and a county legal battle to reclaim the revenue failed to prevail all the way to the State Supreme Court. No other electricity generator in Mississippi shares its property tax assessment outside the county where the generator is located. Ultimately, the State seized 70% of the county tax assessment and redistributed it over the 44 counties hardest hit by Grand Gulf's electricity rate shock. Each county's share of nuke tax assessment is based on their kilowatt hour usage from the nuclear power station. As a result, Claiborne County gets only a 30% share of the nuclear revenue to manage not only all its county services, schools, police and fire departments but nearly the entire 10-mile radius radiological emergency plan for the nuclear power station, save a small portion which extends over the river into Louisiana.

The petition to intervene in the NRC licensing hearing for the expansion of Grand Gulf filed by Claiborne County NAACP, NIRS, Public Citizen and the MS Sierra Club clearly contended that there was a legitimate dispute with the utility's Environmental Assessment which ignored the presence of a minority community in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site expansion. The EA failed as well to recognize any additional adverse impact disproportionately impacting that minority population as the result of siting additional nuclear units. According to declarations submitted by the coalition, the Claiborne County Sheriff's Department has but a single patrol officer on night duty to cover the 487 square miles of county's territory around the nuclear power station. The declaration identifies that "additional man power is needed to fully fill the required needs of our emergency evacuation plan and provide additional service at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant since the 9/11 disaster." The Claiborne County Hospital Administrator submitted a declaration that the hospital, which is designated as the first responder site, is an antiquated and deteriorating facility and is "ill prepared, at present, to respond to any large scale medical emergency or act of terror." Moreover, NIRS identified an emergency evacuation route relied upon in the Grand Gulf 2004 Emergency Plan that is impassable due to a large section of the road and a bridge that has been washed out for three years.

The NRC denial of a licensing hearing for the residents of Claiborne County not only ignores addressing any of the factual disputes raised in local declarations but squarely falls back on the NRC environmental justice policy statement that "EJ per se is not a litigable issue in our proceeding." What that says to civil rights and environmental justice activists engaged in the Mississippi struggle is tantamount to hanging a sign on the NRC hearing room door that reads "WHITES ONLY."

Source and contact: Paul Gunter, NIRS, pgunter@nirs.org