Vol. 9, No. 45
November 8-14, 2001 
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Cove Point LNG: Giving Terrorists a Two-fer

Sirens piercing Southern Maryland’s air at noon. Fighter jets growling above the Chesapeake Bay at midnight.

The noises bespeak a perceived threat in our midst: The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant and worries that terrorists might attack it.

Alerted by the routine siren test of November 5 and the now-routine fighter patrols, our ears should tell us that it is no time to expand the threat by re-opening the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas terminal in Calvert County, just south of the nuclear plant on the Western Shore of the Bay.

We Marylanders have rationalized living in the shadow of the nuclear plant by assuming that our government was protecting us. But in recent weeks, we have seen a disquieting series of reports on what the government has not been doing.

For instance, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it hadn’t considered the possibility of a suicide terrorist attack on nuclear plants — until September 11’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The NRC’s stated reason: “People don’t do these things.”

We know different now, and that’s why you’re hearing those fighter jets.

Likewise, never had the Commission ordered design changes in the spent-fuel pools at Calvert Cliffs and other plants. Those pools contain the highly radioactive fuel rods from the cores of reactors, materials that remain dangerous for 10,000 years. The rods were to have been safely stored by the government underground somewhere. That failing is another story.

In the here-and-now, these rods are subject to “meltdown” and release into the environment. Unfortunately for us, they are kept in vulnerable buildings rather than in the steel-reinforced structures that house the live reactors.

We relate these security shortcomings to show that the government isn’t always looking out for our interests. That was the case last month when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its preliminary approval for Williams Companies, Inc., the Tulsa-based energy conglomerate, to reactivate and expand the Cove Point gas terminal.

The terminal, which rises up in the Bay like a big erector set, has been closed since 1980. It should stay that way — and for reasons beyond closing a fertile fishing ground, which would happen if the terminal reopens.

We don’t immediately accept the government’s assurance that bringing highly explosive tankers near a nuclear plant poses no threat. (Curiously, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made its Chesapeake Bay decision last month, Boston Harbor was forbidding entrance to an LNG tanker as a terrorist precaution.)

If there are truly the terrorist threats that the government is warning us about, why give malicious madmen two targets in close proximity?

Do we really want to turn our peaceful Chesapeake Bay into a full-time security zone with war planes and gun boats in return for $2 million a year in tax proceeds to Calvert County?

There are steps to occur yet, including approval by the Coastal Zone Management program, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Up to now, our elected officials have heard little from the people who elected them. Is that the way we want it?

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly