The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Ocean County will be shutting down permanently in October of this year – 14 months ahead of the previously scheduled date, according to a press release from the New Jersey Sierra Club.
As the oldest plant in the country with essentially the same design as the Fukushima plant that continues to devastate Japan and the entire Pacific Ocean, it is obvious that the cost of safely operating the plant exceeds the revenue that the operator, Exelon, reaps. As the Sierra Club puts it, “It is like driving a 1969 Chevy Nova in the age of Tesla.”
Originally, the plant was scheduled to operate for another decade, but the owner decided to shut it down rather than investing in saving the wildlife in Barnegat Bay from the heated effluence.
The industry has very little experience in closing down these behemoths. There are numerous questions that our federal and state agencies need to answer – and ensure the safety of the public and the integrity of the taxpayer’s wallet.
Oyster Creek generates a significant portion of our state’s electricity. Due to the policies of the Republican Congress and our former Governor, we are way behind were we should and could be on renewable energy. Governor Murphy’s sensible initiative for wind and solar power will take years to come to fruition, so for the short term this demand shortfall will most likely be fulfilled by increased natural gas generation. No doubt the pipeline proponents will use this to justify more of these volatile installations across the state. According to the Sierra Club, Governor Murphy’s offshore wind proposal will generate six times the amount of energy that the plant has, so the long-term solution is clear.
The other issue is the cleanup and remediation of the site. We need to ensure that the plan Exelon puts forth is comprehensive and safe. Since our nation has no viable solution to the problem of nuclear waste storage, the only option is to store the highly radioactive detritus on site.
Finally, there’s the issue of jobs. There are about 700 workers at the plant, and we hope Governor Murphy, the legislature, and industry will find ways to utilize the skills these folks have – perhaps with retraining in the renewable energy sector – to keep them employed.
Closing the plant on the shores of the Atlantic will mitigate but not eliminate the probability of a release of toxic radioactive material. And the state’s other nuclear facility in Salem County continues to be a risk for the entire Philadelphia metropolitan area. But this is a first step. Let’s keep the pressure on our elected officials and on the plant operators to do it right – and minimize the risk for future generations.