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Hearings this week to shape future of DTE’s proposed new nuclear reactor in Michigan

This week, federal nuclear regulators will hold hearings related to DTE’s proposal to build another nuclear reactor in Monroe County. Plans submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commissionin 2008 call for a roughly 1,500 megawatt reactor.

DTE wants to build Fermi 3 near Fermi 2. Fermi 2 has been operating in Frenchtown Township for 25 years. Fermi 1 partially melted down in the 1960s and was permanently closed in the early 1970s.

A coalition of environmentalist group from the US and Canada is challenging plansfor the new reactor on a couple of legal grounds. Here’s a rundown from the hearing noticeissued earlier this month by the NRC:

This hearing involves Detroit Edison’s application to build an Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor at the Fermi site. Several environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environmental, Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan and the Sierra Club, filed a legal challenge opposing the application. The groups argue that the environmental review of the proposed reactor fails to adequately analyze and discuss impacts on the eastern fox snake at the site. The groups also argue that quality assurance concerns regarding safety analysis work by Detroit Edison and its contractor prevent the NRC from issuing a license for the proposed reactor. The hearing will examine these two arguments.

A board of three judges will hear the challenges this week. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell says it’ll probably take a few months for the board to come to a decision.

Even then, he says their decision can be appealed to the full commission. “It’s reasonable to say that in many of the cases that come before the board; their initial decisions are appealed to the commission,” Burnell said.

The legal hearings start Wednesday morning, October 30. But the board will also hold limited public hearings on Tuesday, October 29 at Monroe Community College from 1-4 p.m. and 7-8:30 p.m.

Burnell says the final decision on whether DTE can build Fermi 3 likely won’t come out until the end of 2014. In addition to the legal issues that will be discussed at the hearings, DTE will have to complete an environmental impact study and prove the safety and design of the plant to the NRC.

If Fermi 3 is approved, it would become Michigan’s fifth operating nuclear reactor.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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