Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it is planning on performing a special inspection of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township, an area that was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. This plant is one of the oldest in the country and its design is essentially the same as the Fukushima reactors that resulted in a long-lasting calamity in Japan.
Oyster Creek is operated by a for-profit company, Exelon, and while the NRC imposes (hopefully) strict safety standards, the age of the plant indicates that maintenance and safety costs will be rising. The state has indicated that the plant will be decommissioned in 2019, but since the operating license is issued by the Federal government, there are some, including the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel, who look at that date with some doubt.
According to the NRC, we may have dodged a Fukushima-type bullet during the hurricane:
“Because the reactor was out of service at the time of the storm for a previously scheduled refueling and maintenance outage, plant operators did not have to contend with the possibility of a reactor shutdown as Sandy passed through the area. There were no immediate safety concerns,” Region I Administrator Bill Dean said. “Nevertheless, there are certain observations involving procedures and on-site activities that surfaced during the event warranting a closer look. This Special Inspection will focus on those areas to gain a better understanding of how the intake water level information was monitored and communicated during the event.”
We may not be so lucky the next time a global-warming-strengthened storm hits the Jersey Shore. Exelon has refused to build cooling towers for the plant, and according to Jeff Tittel, “Without cooling towers, the plants depend on continuous withdrawals from waterways to cool spent fuel, making the plant more vulnerable during power outages and to disruption of their water intake systems.”
While Exelon is not required to announce its decommissioning and environmental cleanup plan until two years before closure, it’s time to start working to get this ticking time bomb shut down safely. The Governor should form an advisory council now, consisting of area residents, environmentalists, and decontamination experts as well as energy experts to develop a plan and apply pressure to the NRC to ensure a safe and quick decommissioning of the plant and to boost clean energy alternatives.