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CONSUMER ACTIVISM ROCKING THE NUCLEAR BOAT

By Jeff Posey |

When Juanita Ellis and her group, Citizens Association for Sound Energy (CASE), made a deal this July with Texas Utilities Electric Company to drop their opposition to TU’s Comanche Peak nuclear power plant near Glen Rose, it was a first in American nuclear history. CASE agreed to drop its formal opposition of the $9.1 billion plant in return for $4.5 million (to pay for almost a decade of expenses incurred by CASE), a place on TU’s monitoring board for five years, and other concessions. The consumer activist world was rocked. Local groups scrambled to pick up where CASE was leaving off. Public interest groups in Washington. D.C., conferred in a flurry of phone calls and hastily called meetings. And to some, Ellis, who had a golden reputation in the consumer activist community, had gone from being a heroine to a villain.

Joanne Doroshow, a staff attorney at the Center of Responsive Law in Washington and an associate of Ralph Nader, says, “I know how the nuclear industry acts,” she says, “and it’s questionable that there’s any worth at all to this agreement.” Doroshow thinks the money was the deciding factor for Ellis (a portion of the $4.5 million will reimburse Ellis for her expenses in fighting the plant).

But most Washington consumer groups are taking a softer stance. “We have a great deal of respect for CASE,” says Ken Bossong, director of the Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project. No one knows whether the deal will be a good one for consumers or not, Bossong says, because nothing like this has ever been done. Bossong’s group has decided to watch and wait for the next year or two to decide if they like the deal.

Ellis herself is overjoyed. “’We’ve won,” she says. “This is what we’ve tried to get them [TU] to do all along.” The deal was spawned by a letter to Ellis from Bill Counsil, executive vice president in charge of Comanche Peak. “Through the untiring efforts of CASE,” the letter says, “Comanche Peak is a better, safer plant.. .We commend CASE.” Although the letter surprised her (“it was such a drastic change in their position and attitude”), Ellis quickly regained her composure and sat down with Counsil to hammer out a detailed agreement: TU will continue with all its corrective action programs; CASE will be notified and consulted on all changes to the plant; CASE will be notified of findings of all inspections; and for five years Ellis will sit on the Operations Review Committee (ORC), a nine-member board that can review everything done at the plant. But Ellis says she never brought up money. TU offered it, and she took it almost without comment.

Ellis is already attending the ORC meetings, and says she is impressed at how much input she has. “We have not changed our basic philosophy,” she says. “We still are opposed to the opening of the plant. But if it opens, then it’s gotta be done right.”