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Critical Compromise Continued from cover its nuclear reactors at the Comanche Peak plant, tucked between Glen Rose and Granbury, about 75 miles southwest of Dallas. Under the settlement, signed by Juanita Ellis, president of Citizens Associavenor group dropped its legal action against Texas Utilities. Thus, without opposition recognized by the regulatory agency, the utility avoided a final licensing hearing before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] and improved the chances of getting the plant on line as early as 1990. In return, for the next five years or until one year after the plant’s second reactor begins commercial operation, Ellis and CASE attorney Billie Garde will sit on the Operations Review Committee, a ninemember board that oversees safety at the plant. \(The other seven members are from understanding the agreement is the money, a lot of money for anyone except perhaps a giant corporation. CASE will receive $4.5 million from Texas Utilities, and about 50 whistleblowers some who lost their jobs after reporting construction problems will share $5.5 million. Ellis’s decision to settle with Texas Utilities now makes it difficult or impossible for others to continue in opposition to the nuclear plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims that all substantive questions about the plant’s safety were raised by Ellis’s group and should be considered answered with her settlement. One intervenor group, Citizens for Fair in 1982, would now like to reenter the regulatory process. But this past December the NRC denied intervenor status to CFUR, saying the group was too late in asking to be readmitted and has no new information. The Catch-22, of course, is that CFUR would have asked to reenter the process earlier if its members had known that CASE was considering settling. Texas Utilities’ $10 million settlement was calculated to remove criticism, according to Betty Brink, 56, of Fort Worth, spokesperson for CFUR’s intervention committee. “I think the $10 million out of their pocket when they’re looking at a $9 billion investment was like a penny to you Marshall N. Surratt lives and writes in Frisco, in North Texas. and me,” Brink said. “I think they knew without a public interest group looking over their shoulder they could get a license from the NRC.” Besides, she said, unresolved issues do exist, such as whether the plant can safely store all the radioactive fuel it would use and whether Kapton wiring, a light wiring used in many nuclear power plants, is safe. The U.S. Navy has already found that when nicked and then exposed to moisture, the wiring can cause fires. Brink believes the settlement means safety issues CASE and others had brought to public attention will not be considered now. “Those issues have been swept under the table because there is not going to be any way to litigate them without a hearing,” she said. “So effectively, it shut off public access to information about the plant.” FOR 14 YEARS, Juanita Ellis, now 53, had fought against the plant. Today, her small wood-frame house in South Dallas is crammed with documents. Boxes are stacked to the ceiling in the living room. The couch has long since been removed, replaced with tall metal shelves, and only a pathway remains. So why, with her concern some say obsession about the plant, did Juanita Ellis settle with Texas Utilities? She and the attorneys for her group say that, well, it was the best they could do. Garde, attorney for CASE since 1984, said, “It is frankly impossible to ultimately prevail if what you’re really interested in is stopping a plant [but] we definitely took full advantage of the licensing process the years we were in, protecting the public health and safety.” As part of the settlement, Garde is leading sessions to teach Texas Utilities managers how to be responsive to whistleblowers. Ellis pointed out that to continue she would have had to move her oversight operation from the hearing room to the plant site. Her group’s main contention up to then was that Texas Utilities had not tested to determine whether tens of thousands of supports for the pipes that carry coolant to the two nuclear reactors could withstand thermal-expansion stress during an accident. But in July 1988 the whistleblowers working with her group said Texas Utilities’ pipe support redesign plan looked good. In the licensing hearings scheduled for August 1988, Ellis could only have contested the implementation itself of the pipes and pipe supports. For intervenor groups, finding problems is easier than oversight. The NRC historically has seen its role as one of helping utilities get plants on line. NRC staff members notify utilities in advance before inspectors will enter areas within a plant. \(Earlier this year, photographs of NRC inspectors were still being posted inside the construction area at the Comanche Peak described as an almost collaborative relationship with utilities companies, intervenors might receive information about what NRC inspectors discovered at a plant weeks or months after an inspection. Intervenors then must quickly educate themselves in order to know whether to question conditions revealed by an inspection. But now, as a member of the oversight committee for the plant, Ellis will receive information in a more timely fashion. “We had no good mechanism for monitoring the implementation in the context of the hearings,” Ellis commented earlier this year. “Under the agreement, we can now monitor implementation in a way that we never would have been able to in the hearings.” Some, however, suspect that Texas Utilities found a weak point in Ellis’s health and personality. Sitting in hearings and typing at home, sometimes for as long as 12 hours a day, had caused Ellis to suffer from back problems; she was tired and her husband had endured several bouts with cancer. Also, in part because she had mastered so much highly technical material during her years of opposing the plant, Ellis worked more and more alone. “She was worn out, emotionally and physically exhausted. I’m afraid she had begun to develop some resentment and has always misunderstood how to involve other people in the process,” said Lon Burnam, 35, of Fort Worth. Burnam has a masters degree in city and regional planning and has been active in CFUR since 1978. He has also been involved with other groups that opposed the Comanche Peak plant. “Opponents of the plant were frequently made to feel that their contributions to the CASE effort were insignificant,” Burnam said. “It has to do with personality, a controlling personality. Some of us would say it is the difference between a Republican 6 JUNE 30, 1989