By Diane Farsetta on October 02, 2007

Indian Point nuclear power plantIn its bid to build new nuclear power plants, the nuclear power industry has "found a way around a long-standing regulatory policy they say added a year or more to construction times for nuclear plants." The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) "agreed to industry demands" and decreased "its oversight of initial work at reactor sites," by "narrowing its definition of the word 'construction.'" A 1971 court victory by scientists and environmentalists in Maryland requires a public hearing and construction permit before construction on new nuclear plants can begin. In 2006, the Nuclear Energy Institute began lobbying to change what "construction" meant. In 2007, the NRC obliged by redefining "construction" to exclude "excavation, road building and the erection of some cooling towers." The new definition is expected to take effect later this year, over the protests of NRC environmental project manager Andrew Kugler, who believes it will exclude from federal oversight some "90 percent of the true environmental impacts of construction." One NRC Commissioner who voted for the change, Jeffrey S. Merrifield, now works for The Shaw Group, Inc., a company that builds nuclear plants.