Asbury Park Press Editorial
April 26, 2007

State to NRC: See ya in court

The odds against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejecting a 20-year license extension for the Oyster Creek nuclear generating plant always were long. It's only a matter of time perhaps as soon as next month before it gives its blessing to the Lacey plant. That would keep intact the NRC's perfect record of never having said "no" to a license renewal request.

Fortunately, that won't be the end of the story. The state Wednesday announced it will challenge in federal court the NRC's ruling that it doesn't have to consider the impact of a possible terrorist strike on the plant in the license renewal process. We hope the state will follow that up by ordering Oyster Creek to be retrofitted with a cooling tower, in keeping with the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. Plant owner AmerGen has said that a cooling tower would be too expensive to allow it to continue operating the plant profitably.

In February, the NRC rejected the state's contention that an analysis of the potential impact of a terrorist strike at the plant whose dated design makes its spent fuel pool particularly vulnerable should be part of the environmental review process. The state's decision to challenge the ruling in court isn't simply a legal maneuver to shut the plant. Concern about the possible impact of a terrorist strike on Oyster Creek's spent fuel pool was heightened by the recent disclosure of an internal memo from a safety specialist at Oyster Creek stating that the floor of the spent fuel pool was not constructed to design and was not adequately attached to the wall.

". . . (F)rom a nuclear safety perspective, the controlling structure with least margin is the floor of the fuel pool," the memo said. "The floor was supposed to be attached to the walls with a rebar configuration. . . . This is not the configuration we found and was why we had to limit the fuel pool temperature to 125 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the floor did not detach and drop during a seismic event and rupture the fuel pool liner. If this rebar is really corroding as projected, I suspect our design analysis of the floor support is not valid today, let alone for a 20-year life extension."

The NRC has done everything its self-serving rules allow to keep opponents from having their legitimate questions about the plant's impact on public health, safety and the environment addressed. As state Environmental Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson noted Wednesday, "If the NRC intends to block states from considering the environmental consequences of a terrorist attack, then they are obligated to assess that danger themselves."

It's an obligation the NRC has consistently and irresponsibly sidestepped. It's nice to see the state trying to fill the void.