NRC launches special probe of New Jersey plant outage



The Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission started a special investigation Thursday into an emergency shutdown of the nation's oldest nuclear power plant.

Over the weekend, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station had to shut down when severe thunderstorms knocked out power to the area.


The plant provides about 9 percent of New Jersey's electricity, enough to power about 600,000 homes. Scattered outages in the area were caused by lightning strikes, not because the nuclear plant was knocked offline.

A team of four inspectors went to the Lacey Township site to review the outage and the plant's response to it early Sunday morning.

Samuel J. Collins, a regional administrator with the NRC, said in a statement the performance of humans and machines during the outage need to be looked into more closely.

"While the plant was safely removed from service during the event, several equipment issues arose during the shutdown that we believe bear closer examination," he said. "Through this special inspection, we intend to gain a better understanding of these issues, including the actions taken by plant operators in response."

Among those was an electrical component failing; an emergency diesel generator taking longer than expected to start; and problems involving an isolation condenser, a component used to help cool down the reactor during shutdowns.

David Benson, a plant spokesman, said the backup generator did not perform as expected.

"We are not satisfied with the performance of one of the two diesel generators," he said. "Our expectation is for the generator to start up in seven seconds; this generator took 80 seconds."

He said the unit has since been repaired.

The plant went back online at 3:15 p.m. Thursday.

Oyster Creek got a new 20 year license in April. It will be 60 years old when this license expires.

Shortly after it won the new license, the plant discovered some underground pipes had been leaking tritium, a weak, radioactive form of hydrogen. The pipes were dug up and replaced, and the plant says no tritium has left the site.

The NRC plans to issue a report on its findings within 45 days of the completion of the special inspection.



In this memo, New Jersey legislators demanded the inquiry reported above, following the Oyster Creek outage: 


Senator Christopher J. Connors                   Date: June 29, 2009

Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf                     Contact: (609) 693-6700

Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt





9th District Legislative Delegation Writes to White House, NRC, Governor's Office & DEP

Forked River:  In response to recent media reports, Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt are calling for the immediate release of a root-cause analysis on the tritium release at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station.  According to published media reports, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has a time-frame of six weeks to decide whether or not to make this information public.  


In seeking the release of the analysis, the 9th District Delegation wrote President Barack Obama, requesting that the President direct    the NRC to make the analysis available to the public in interest of government transparency.  A letter was also sent to NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko.  

On the state level, the Delegation wrote to Governor Corzine and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Mark N. Mauriello in an attempt to solicit further support for the release of the analysis.  In late April, the Delegation requested a full briefing on the Department's investigation to the tritium release at the Oyster Creek facility. 

Connors, Rumpf and Van Pelt made the following remarks regarding their unified call for the release of the analysis:

"In the interest of transparency, we strongly believe that the contents of the analysis should be considered public information and, therefore, released in a timely fashion.  From our point of view, the analysis should be made available for review by the very people whose health and safety it is the NRC's obligation to protect.  Since the initial investigation included whether or not there was groundwater contamination resulting from the tritium release, we do not understand how the NRC could reach a conclusion that this information should be kept confidential.     

"Considering the public response when it was first made public that there was a tritium leak at the Oyster Creek facility, we fully anticipate that constituents will be contacting our Office calling for this analysis to be made public.  If nothing else, this information should be released to reassure residents of local communities that there is no risk to the public, if that is indeed the conclusion reached by the NRC through its investigation."

Copies of the Delegation's letters to the President, the NRC, Governor Corzine and the DEP are attached.