Oyster Creek radiation barrier hearing planned for September
Asbury Park Press 06/20/07


A landmark hearing on how often a critical radiation barrier at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey would be monitored is to be held in September, under a ruling issued Tuesday.

It would be the first hearing of its kind regarding a nuclear plant license renewal application, said Neil A. Sheehan, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"I think, at minimum, we're going to make this reactor safer overall," said Richard Webster, staff attorney in the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic.

"Whether we're going to be able to make it safe enough is an open question," said Webster, who represents six citizens' groups fighting the proposed 20-year renewal of Oyster Creek's NRC operating license.

On Tuesday, an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel denied AmerGen's request to dismiss the six groups' "contention" that planned drywell monitoring would not be frequent enough to maintain an adequate safety margin, according to the panel's decision. But the panel also granted AmerGen's request to limit the scope of the contention.

Oyster Creek spokeswoman Leslie Cifelli said, "this denial doesn't mean that citizens' contention has any merit."

"The company's confident that we can demonstrate that these issues lack technical merit . . . during the hearing," Cifelli said.

At issue is how often Oyster Creek operator AmerGen Energy LLC plans to measure the thickness — using ultrasound — of a corroded lower region of the plant's steel drywell. The drywell surrounds the nuclear reactor and is designed to contain radiation during an accident.

Oyster Creek opened in 1969 as the country's first large-scale commercial nuclear power plant, according to AmerGen's Web site. Nearly two years ago, AmerGen filed an application seeking NRC permission to run the plant for 20 years beyond April 2009.

The independent Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel, which has three judges, is within the NRC.

The schedule calls for an evidentiary hearing to begin on the morning of Sept. 24 and end no later than noon Sept. 26, according to an e-mail from the NRC's Sheehan.

The judges will then make a decision, and the NRC will decide by Jan. 22 whether to renew AmerGen's operating license, according to Sheehan and the NRC Web site.

The judges could require AmerGen to check the drywell more often.

The board "recognizes we have very serious issues and they need to be resolved," Webster said.

Cifelli called the judges' decision "good news for the company in that there's only one remaining contention" and everything else has been dismissed.

Original Article at http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007706200316