Vol. 9, No. 48
November 29 - December 5, 2001 
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Measuring Risk on Chesapeake Bay

On our boat Sunday, we headed into the teeth of a wind blowing straight out of the south at 18mph and gusting to 25. We headed back to the slip. By Monday morning, a bare whimper of a breeze fanned us out of the northeast.

Such are the vagaries affecting who would need to worry if trouble struck at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby. From Annapolis, driving to the plant is a bit of a hike. But as the crow flies — and as the wind blows radiation — Calvert Cliffs is situated just 34 miles due south of Maryland’s dense capital.

It’s not the no-nuke crowd taking on the measure of such risk. It’s Congress and federal agencies as they take stock of how to protect people in the aftermath of September 11.

In the coming weeks, Congress will say nay or yea to a proposal requiring the government to stockpile enough potassium iodide to protect people within 200 miles of a nuclear plant. The pills have been shown to protect the thyroid. That radiation-sensitive gland near the windpipe plays a role in how we grow.

These are not pleasant thoughts, but this is the time to think them as we re-evaluate what threatens us and what we can do to lessen our vulnerability.

With regard to Calvert Cliffs, there’s not much we can do; we’re not going to shut down nuclear plants, so stockpiling the pills sounds like a good idea.

But there’s another huge decision pending that involves the Bay — and on this one, what we do will have a bearing on our risk for a long time.

We’re speaking here about deciding whether to allow a Tulsa energy corporation to reactivate and expand the Cove Point liquid natural gas plant, which is situated about three miles from the nuclear station and which has its loading facility out in Chesapeake Bay. A decision expected shortly by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could go either way.

Two weeks ago, under pressure from Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the commission backtracked and said it was re-evaluating its preliminary approval allowing the corporation, Williams Cos., to proceed.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Mikulski raised the specter of a devastating explosion damaging the nuclear plant. She said that Marylanders need to know if the gas shipments can proceed safely. “I don’t want permits issued and ships coming in until we know the answer to that question from the Homeland Security director and the FBI and the Coast Guard,” the senator said.

From what we can tell, those agencies are working to measure the risk. We’re also told that the commission will make its ruling by Dec. 13.

We’re not reassured. The obscure commission that goes by its geeky-sounding acronym, FERC, operates out of the public eye. Last week, it met with the Williams representatives in Washington but declined even to say what was on the agenda.

This is a huge decision that Marylanders ought to be talking about. Do we want massive tankers from gas-producing countries like Qatar, Algeria, Oman, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates plying our waters with risky cargo?

Do we want the fragile Chesapeake as the new home to the biggest gas facility in America, surpassing in size those in Elba Island, Ga., Lake Charles, La., and Everett, Mass.?

We think the answer to both questions is a resounding no — and that a decision of such magnitude should not be rushed by a secretive government bureaucracy.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly