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Feds extend license for Ameren's Callaway nuclear plant

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Ameren Missouri's Callaway Nuclear plant

A view of the cooling tower from the roof of the fuel storage building at Ameren Missouri's nuclear plant on Friday, July 11, 2014, in Callaway County. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

Federal regulators have granted Ameren Missouri’s request for authority to operate its nuclear power plant in Callaway County for an additional 20 years.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Monday it had extended the St. Louis-based utility’s operating license for the mid-Missouri nuclear plant. The extension means Ameren can legally operate the plant, about 15 miles southeast of Fulton, until 2044. Ameren’s existing 40-year license would have expired in 2024.

“Renewal of our license ensures that the Callaway Energy Center will continue to benefit our customers and the community,” Fadi Diya, chief nuclear officer at Ameren Missouri, said in a statement Monday.

“Callaway employs hundreds of people, provides a powerful boost to the local and state economy and is a key reason why Ameren Missouri is able to provide our customers with reliability that is among the best in the United States.”

Ameren’s Callaway plant, which began operating in 1984, is the only nuclear power plant in Missouri. It supplies 1,200 megawatts of power at full capacity and is the utility’s second-largest power plant, behind the 2,400-megawatt Labadie coal plant in Franklin County.

Ameren first submitted the extension request more than three years ago, but the process was slowed by disagreement between politicians, regulators and environmentalists over what to do with the radioactive leftovers from the nation’s nuclear plants.

With no action from Congress on a national repository for spent nuclear fuel that was originally planned for the Nevada desert, a federal court ruled the NRC had to consider the possibility that no such storage facility would ever be built.

The NRC stopped renewing licenses for two years while it developed new rules. Those rules, which were finalized last year, say nuclear waste from power plants could be stored indefinitely in above-ground dry casks as long as they are replaced every 100 years.

Environmental groups and several state attorneys general challenged the new rules and asked for a halt to relicensing.

“It’s wildly premature for the NRC in our opinion to issue a license decision when regulations governing high-level nuclear waste are unclear,” said Ed Smith, who follows nuclear power for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, one of the parties to the lawsuit.

But NRC spokesman David McIntyre said licenses already issued were not affected when a court threw out a previous version of the spent fuel rule. “If past precedent is any guide, it will not have any effect,” he said of the ongoing litigation.

The NRC says 76 commercial nuclear power reactors have been relicensed, and 18 are under review.

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