OK. So New England is a bit safer today. But this is a New Jersey blog, isn’t it? So why is New England safer and what does it have to do with New Jersey?
This week marks the beginning of the shut down and decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, situated on the Connecticut River near the point where Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts meet. Now starts the long, expensive process of removing the spent fuel and other radioactive components, and making them safe and secure for future generations. This is a process that New Jersey citizens will be duplicating when the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township undergoes a similar decommissioning.
The Oyster Creek plant is set to close in 2019. Not because it has reached the end of its useful life (although it’s one of the oldest operating plants in the country), but because its owner, Excelon, has made the business decision that it is more economical to close the plant than to comply with environmental remediation that would protect the wildlife in Barnegat Bay, where the plant dumps its excess cooling water.
It’s not too soon to start the process to ensure that the Oyster Creek decommissioning goes as smoothly and as safely as possible.
In a slick animation, the operator of the Vermont Yankee plant has disclosed that it will take seven years to “safely” store the spent nuclear fuel in casks to be stored in a secure area on the banks of the Connecticut River. There is no plan to remove them to a more remote site. The ratepayers or taxpayers of Vermont will be encumbered not only with the cost of disassembly and safing of the plant, but also with the cost of securing the spent fuel in perpetuity. And did you know that no matter what assurances you get from the plant’s proponents, casks eventually leak? Who will bear the cost of the environmental remediation when that happens? The people of Vermont, of course.
Certainly, the shut down of the plant makes the area safer from a Fukushima-type disaster. Fortunately, Southern Vermont is not prone to tsunamis, but earthquakes and other disasters can happen anywhere.
The State of Vermont and other stakeholders have formed a Citizens Advisory Panel to assist in the planning and execution of Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning. Here’s what New Jersey’s elected officials should do to ensure that our own upcoming nuclear plant closure is a smooth and as safe as possible.
1. Trenton should form a similar Citizens Advisory Panel, heavily populated with local business owners, environmentalists, and ordinary citizens.
2. That panel should proactively observe the workings of the Vermont panel to capture lessons learned and leverage Vermont’s experience to help with New Jersey’s decommissioning.
3. The State Legislature, through its environmental and energy committees, should hold periodic hearings to ensure that Oyster Creek’s owners are not cutting corners and reducing safety in their plan for decommissioning.
4. Newly minted Congressman Tom MacArthur, in whose district the Oyster Creek plant is located, should establish a permanent dialog with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the citizens of Ocean County to ensure complete and open transparency and adequacy in the plans for the decommissioning of the plant and storage of the toxic material.
Proponents of nuclear power generation tout it as a clean and cheap source of energy. It is neither. Detritus from nuclear power remains toxic for decades, even centuries. Storage and disposal of this hazardous waste is a cost that we are passing on to future generations. And despite all of the supposed safeguards, accidents do happen. Once the plant is closed, we probably won’t see the big, headline-grabbing accidents, but there will be leaks, spills, and perhaps terrorist action that will spew these dangerous toxins into our air and water.
The moratorium on construction of new nuclear plants was a good thing for this nation. But without a concerted effort to invest in truly clean and renewable energy, we will still fall back to the simple, dirty solutions to meet our needs. Unfortunately the present governor is in the dirty energy camp. It’s up to the legislature, our members of Congress, and future governors to reverse this trend and embrace investment in truly clean energy.