The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission upheld a decision Monday preventing a French company from building a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in southern Maryland, but it offered glimmers of hope for the project's proponents.
The commissioners directed their staff "to review issues relating to foreign ownership" -- the sticking point for the Calvert Cliffs proposal -- and recommend whether changes to agency rules or practice are appropriate.
The five-person commission would not overturn a decision by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that UniStar Nuclear Energy is ineligible for a new-reactor license because it is wholly owned by French energy group EDF. Federal law bans foreign ownership or control of nuclear plants.
But, though project opponents had asked for the license application to be dismissed outright, the commissioners declined to do so. The commission cited UniStar's "oft-repeated commitment" to find a new U.S. partner to replace Constellation Energy Group -- the then-Baltimore based company that pulled out in 2010.
"We look forward to receipt of the revised guidance on foreign ownership," UniStar said in a statement.
Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a Takoma Park-based nuclear watchdog group, said he doubts that taking a second look at the nuclear commission's agency rules will help UniStar, given the restrictions of federal law.
"The rules are already pretty flexible -- but they weren't flexible enough, because the law isn't flexible enough to help a project that is totally owned by the French government," said Mariotte, whose group opposed UniStar's license application. "The law is the law. ... If the law applies at all, it applies in this case."
EDF and Constellation teamed up in 2007 as UniStar, with plans to build four reactors in the United States. Constellation backed out 21/2 years ago, citing difficulties with federal loan guarantees, and negotiated a deal that left EDF sole owner of the third reactor -- if built.
At the time, energy analysts said low natural-gas prices made new nuclear-power projects uneconomical. EDF has yet to find a U.S. partner to replace Constellation, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday that it has been given "no sense" of when one might be found.