Panel listens to public about Oyster Creek


TOMS RIVER — Paul Gunter of the Reactor Watchdog Project didn't say much during last night's Nuclear Regulatory Commission limited statement meeting at the Ocean County Administration Building.

In fact, he didn't say anything, sitting in the audience with a black gag in his mouth. But he showed his displeasure with the process anyway, holding up some 20 signs to illustrate the point that everyone should have been allowed to speak during the meeting.

Two of his signs read: "I am not allowed to speak" and "Oyster Creek is a a sitting duck."

So went yesterday's public hearing on the proposed relicensing of Oyster Creek, which focused exclusively on the plant's cooling system. Oyster Creek, located in the Forked River section of Lacey Township, is seeking renewal of its license. The current license will expire in April 2009. The power plant is owned by AmerGen Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Exelon Corp.

Gunter's group is part of the coalition of six environmental groups which filed a contention that calls for an additional public hearing concerning the integrity of the drywell liner and increased inspections of the system.

Under procedures set down in advance by a judicial panel of the NRC known as the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, only those who were not directly speaking for an environmental commission involved in a contention with the NRC and the company were allowed to testify. This also meant that the NRC itself, AmerGen representatives or anyone representing the environmental commission could not speak.

Despite the restrictions, concerns over the drywell liner and the possibility of a terrorist attack, dominated yesterday's meeting.

While Gunter got his message across without speaking, most of those who spoke told the Atomic Safety Licensing Board panel of Chairman E. Roy Hawkens, Paul B. Abramson and Anthony J. Barata that the power plant should not be relicensed.

Maryanne Clemente of Barnegat said that the drywell liner is facing degradation. "Its infrastructure is in decline and there is potential for it to be a terrorist target.

Oyster Creek's time is up."

The 100-foot drywell shell provides containment in the event of a nuclear accident. The lower portion of the shell is spherical with an inside diameter of 70 feet.

"It was built when Ocean County was relatively rural. Since it went online in 1969 the county's population has tripled in size and it is even more in the summer," Clemente said.

Attorney Michele Donato said that corrosion was detected in the system and added that the drywell does not currently meet safety regulations.

The issue of Oyster Creek being a terrorist target has also been a central theme among critics of the relicensing process.

In February, the NRC when it ruled that the impact of a potential terrorist attack need not be considered during the review for its relicensing.

Earlier this month, New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner announced the state has filed a petition with the Court of Appeals challenging the finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Rabner requested an analysis of the potential impact of a terrorist strike at the plant be a required component of relicensing.

Oyster Creek is the oldest nuclear power plant in the nation. A decision on the 38-year-old plant's license renewal is expected within the next few weeks if a public hearing is not held. If a public hearing is held, a decision on whether the license will be renewed is expected to be made by January 2008.

Paula Gotsch of Brick said that since the time the plant opened its work force had been cut down to between 400 and 450 employees. She called for a general independent study of the drywell system.

Dan Lundy of Long Beach Island said that he had little faith in state agencies and pointed out recent issues of military ordnance that closed beaches in his community until last week and the military's use of flares that allegedly resulted in the burning of 14,000 acres in the Pinelands.

"We're not confident that the assurances we get will be enough. We're asking that you connect the dots with all the agencies, the corporation and the town that receives big tax breaks and the plant," he said.

Gail Saxer asked the trio of judges to literally open their eyes while they listened to the speakers. "It is not appropriate that you have your eyes closed so much of the time. It gives the impression that you are not listening."

Ben Mukherjee of Forked River said he is a civil engineer and was involved in building some of the infrastructure of nuclear power plants. "We need good infrastructure. We need good electricity. Who will you get power from? France, China and India are building nuclear. There is a safe way to do it but I do not think you are giving the people the correct information."

Edward Stroup, a member of IBEW Union 1281, spoke as a citizen during the meeting and stressed that Oyster Creek has been operating safely and has provided power to the public for nearly 40 years. He called for the relicensing of the facility.

Toward the close of yesterday's afternoon session, Abramson clarified that the panel were judges and not part of the NRC staff. "Our job is adjudicate the question of corrosion of the drywell. We do not make policy for the commission."

A coalition of environmental groups, including Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch, Inc., Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, New Jersey Sierra Club, and New Jersey Environmental Federation, contend that the drywell shell is experiencing corrosion problems and are questioning the integrity of the device.

They had pushed for additional hearings concerning the station's operation since the process began.

Last week the NRC held its annual assessment meeting in Toms River that allowed the public to question members of the agency about the license renewal process and how it arrived at its conclusions concerning safety inspections at the plant.

After the last speaker of the first session had spoken, Gunter said: "I'm flabbergasted at the eloquence of the community. I was gagged but they spoke extremely well about the issues and they are mobilizing."

Source: Ocean County Observer