NRC Decision Clears Way for Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant Renewal

April 1, 2009 

By Ben Leach


The Oyster Creek Generating Station in Lacey Township, Ocean County, is expected to receive a license to operate for another 20 years by next Thursday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-1 at a Wednesday hearing to reject arguments from a coalition of citizens groups that the nuclear plant is unsafe to operate beyond 2009.

As far as the NRC is concerned, the hearing process is over and it will move forward with issuing a renewed license, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC.


Were looking forward to providing the state with another 20 years of safe energy, said David Benson, a spokesman for Oyster Creek, the nations oldest nuclear power plant.

The decision comes after years of fighting between Exelon, the company that owns and operates the plant, and the coalition and state officials who claimed that corrosion in the plants drywell raised concerns about the plants age and condition.

Much of the battle centered on the liner of the drywell, which is designed to contain steam in the event of an accident, and send it to be condensed and cooled into water that also must be contained.

While a sand bed that allowed liquid to leak out and cause corrosion inside the drywell was removed and replaced with an epoxy coating in the 1990s, corrosion that occurred before the replacement still exists.

By rejecting the coalitions appeal, the NRC reaffirms previous reports that Oyster Creek is safe to operate for another 20 years.

NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko cast the dissenting vote Wednesday.

According to Jaczko, the findings of a recent inspection report does call into question the expert testimony ... in which Exelon described the (sand bed) coating as being in pristine condition.

According to the NRC, the coalition can file a motion for reconsideration or challenge the decision in federal court.

Were looking for any legal or factual error in the decision, said Richard Webster, legal counsel for the citizensgroups. Webster was poring over the 96-page document that detailed Wednesdays decision.

The NRC could add further commitments and conditions when it issues the renewal license, but exactly what those commitments would be is speculation at this point, according to Webster.

Reaction to the decision among the coalition and other environmental groups was overwhelmingly negative.

The decision is outrageous, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, one of the citizens groups involved in the appeal. In addition to safety concerns, Tittel said the NRC was a champion of the industry and was trying to get the decision through before the Obama administration could appoint new commissioners to the NRC.

This is the last desperate act of the Bush administration, Tittel said.

Even though the licensing procedure has taken four years, members of the coalition said they believed the decision was made too soon and based on incomplete reports on safety, such as a three-dimensional analysis ordered by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board.

The NRC has lost all credibility, said Janet Tauro, a member of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety. The decision was premature. But other groups and officials, including the New Jersey Energy Coalition and Lacey Township Mayor John C. Parker, praised the decision as good news for the state.

Parker was on the Township Committee when the power plant received its first license, and he said he will be happy to see it running for another 20 years.

That would be a wonderful thing, Parker said. Ive been pro-nuclear power my whole life. I think its the answer for the whole country, so I would be elated.

Wednesdays hearing appeared on the NRCs schedule Tuesday afternoon shortly after the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to the license renewal made by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection.

After conducting its own analysis of Oyster Creek, the DEP was concerned whether or not the plant was safe in the event of a terrorist attack. The ruling upheld the NRCs argument that the federal agency had completed its own extensive reviews of plant security.

In December, the state Attorney Generals Office announced that the National Guard and State Police would no longer make regular patrols at the states four nuclear reactors, including Oyster Creek.

The NRC said the only step that remains is for the actual license to be issued. The federal agency expects that to happen sometime before April 9, the day Oyster Creeks license was originally set to expire.