Oyster Creek Generating Station will officially close today, no longer running its nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will regulate the process of the Lacey Twp. plant. Holtec International, a Camden- based company plans to buy Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station and take over the site, including the decommissioning of the plant and other clean-up and restoration activities. Oyster Creek was only open for less than 50 years but has remained an environmental and public safety threat to the communities of South Jersey.
“This is a historic day for New Jersey because Oyster Creek is finally closing. This was the oldest nuclear plant in the country and a disaster waiting to happen. By closing early, it will help protect both the environment and public safety. We’ve been fighting this plan for more than 15 years and this closure is long overdue. This is an important day for our state and for moving forward with renewable energy. We’re glad the nuclear plant is finally closing; it’s a good thing for New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The decommissioning and dismantling of this plant should be done as soon as possible. The plant itself is falling apart and located on a site vulnerable to sea level rise. The faster you can decommission and clean it up, the safer we will be and the sooner we can use the site for a different purpose. It’s important that the plant is finally closing but we need to be sure its done right.”
The plant has been a safety threat to Ocean County, polluting Barnegat Bay, and killing thousands of fish over the years. More than 4500 fish were killed at Oyster Creek in one year, showing its negative impact to the Barnegat Bay and why this plant should have been required to have cooling towers.
“Oyster Creek has shown extreme carelessness, cavalier attitude and mismanagement towards public health and safety over the years. The plant leaks radioactive tritium, has problems with storage, erosion with containment vessels, and among other issues. Shutting down the Oyster Creek plant will reduce the algae blooms, improve fish populations and help restore the overall ecosystem of the Barnegat Bay. The sooner the plant can be dismantled and decommissioned with the fuel rods going to dry cask storage, the less vulnerable the plant will be during the next storm surge. But we need to do it right,” said Jeff Tittel.
There are concerns about Holtec’s plan to move still-hot nuclear waste out of water pools and into dry cask storage in half the usual time of about 5 years. They claim the casts are proprietary and have not disclosed detail about their design to the public. Until the rods are out of the spent-fuel pools and put into dry cask storage, the plant is extremely vulnerable. If there is a power outage, storm surge, or flood, the rods could melt down and create serious public health and environmental damage.
“We’re glad there will be an accelerated clean-up but we need better transparency. Holtec says it will take 2.5 years to transfer the spent fuel in their dry cask storage which has never been done before. The company says their cask storage design is proprietary which is an excuse not to let the public know how they are going to do this. This raises even bigger concerns. We don’t know enough about Holtec’s new dry cask storage design and we should not be experimenting on the people of Ocean County. Holtec needs to prove to us that doing it in half the time will be safe,” said Jeff Tittel. “We need to be sure that the dry cask storage location is safe and away from potential flooding.”
Funds from the Nuclear Plant Closure Fund will be given to Holtec to manage for restoration of the site. This would also be Holtec’s first decommissioning. Holtec plans to create a wholly owned subsidiary, called Oyster Creek Environmental Protection LLC, to own the property and control the trust fund. Another wholly owned subsidiary, Holtec Decommissioning International, would hold the operating license to run the decommissioning. HDI would also use Comprehensive Decommissioning International as a general contractor and Atkins, a wholly owned subsidiary of SNC- Lavalin, will be involved in the work as well.
“Holtec is bringing in too many owners in the purchase and oversight of the decommissioning. These subsidiaries and contractors are third party and not a BPU-regulated entity. This means there won’t be as much transparency involved in the process. They won’t be able to be held accountable by the agency the way Exelon currently is. They may also take over the liability from Exelon,” said Jeff Tittel. “What’s even more alarming is that this is Holtec’s first decommission. If something happens with the clean-up or more contamination found, Exelon could be off the hook.”
The plant has had one problem after another. Equipment failure, inspector violations, tritium leaks, compressor problems, pump problems, drywall liner erosion… and the list keeps growing. They don’t even have a proper evacuation plan. During Sandy, the water level came very close to the containment vessel. This could have created a Fukushima-style disaster for New Jersey.
“Oyster Creek is finally closing on the same day that the BPU is moving forward with wind power. We can begin transitioning New Jersey to renewable energy. We believe that the plant needs to be decommissioned as soon as possible with a just transition for workers included. We’ve always called for the plant’s closure and we want to make sure the employees can find work at other facilities or take part in the plant’s decommissioning. We hope that the work at the plant will continue and the displaced workers will be treated fairly and given other work,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “With Oyster Creek closing, the Bay can start healing, we can move towards clean energy, and we can use the site for better purposes. This could be a win-win, but this should happen safely and as soon as possible.”