Oyster Creek renewal fails to clear state DEP

By DAVID BENSON Staff Writer, (609) 272-7206
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The state Department of Environmental Protection has blocked the Oyster Creek nuclear station's attempt to extend its operating license by 20 years, saying the facility has not provided enough information on future impacts to fisheries to gain approval for a crucial federal requirement.

While there are options open to AmerGen, owner of the nation's longest running nuclear plant, a federal spokesman said the company must clear the state's hurdle before relicensing can continue.

Last week the DEP issued what's known as a “negative federal consistency review,” under the Coastal Zone Management Act. “They will need to get a positive consistency review before relicensing can proceed,” said Mark Mauriello, deputy commissioner of the DEP.

“The impact to fisheries and the Barnegat Bay are hard to project over 20 years,” he said. “We had a discussion about the term of relicensing with AmerGen, and indicated 20 years is too long.”

In the review, Mauriello said, the state tried to convey that a shorter license period might be approved. “I can't say whether a shorter operating period would have been reviewed differently by biologists,” Mauriello said. “But we wanted to give the company the option of a shorter time period.”

According to the review, the term “small” as the company uses it in reference to impacts on the bay and fisheries is unquantifiable.

“Our concern is that we don't have sufficient data to be able to agree with it,” Mauriello said. “The more data you have over a longer period of time, the more accurate the picture of the impact.”

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said there are several options open to AmerGen, including mediation, or applying for a shorter licensing period.

“But almost half of the nuclear plants in the country have applied for and been approved for 20-year license renewals,” Sheehan said. Economic reasons drive the owners of nuclear facilities to seek the longest renewal period possible, he said. “License renewal is expensive and time consuming.”

AmerGen is a wholly owned subsidiary of Exelon Corp., the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the country. The company seeks to extend the operating life of the Lacey Township facility, which opened in 1969, by 20 years, to 2029.

If an agreement can't be reached between the state and AmerGen, the company can appeal the DEP decision to Carlos M. Gutierrez, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. While Gutierrez has no views on record concerning nuclear power, he is a core member of President George W. Bush's economic team.

The Bush Administration believes in nuclear power as part of the nation's energy package. Last May, Bush delivered a speech on his energy initiative from the Limerick generating station, an Exelon nuclear plant in Pennsylvania.

AmerGen officials were not available for comment Tuesday. The company has said it expects to spend about $20 million on the relicensing process. In 2003, the plant produced 5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, or about 9 percent of New Jersey's electricity consumption.


Source: pressofAtlanticCity.com