December 9, 2010
From the Editorsâ€¨ â€¨
Exelon finally succumbed to pressures from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and announced it will close Oyster Creek, the nation’s oldest operating reactor, in 2019, ten years ahead of schedule.
â€¨The reactor is one of three older installations that has come under intense political pressure to close down in the past year from politicians who also claim to be highly concerned about global warming. Vermont Yankee and New York’s Indian Point, both owned by Entergy, are in similar crosshairs, much for the same reasons.â€¨
Exelon’s decision is hardly a win for hysterical anti-nukes, since the reactor will remain open another nine years. The time lag will give both Exelon and New Jersey officials plenty of time to reconsider. The 600-megawatt plant, originally licensed in 1969, supplies 8 percent of New Jersey’s electricity. The state has three other 1000-MW installations – Hope Creek and Salem I and II – and altogether gets 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear, the 10th highest ranking in the nation.â€¨
After operating efficiently for 36 years, Oyster Creek applied for a 20-year license extension in 2005. Opposition groups filed a petition arguing that corrosion in the plants drywall container posed a safety problem. The Atomic Safety Licensing Board dismissed the claim. Then in 2007, the state Department of Environmental Protection weighed in with an argument that the plant was not safe from airplane attacks. The ASLB also rejected this petition. Nevertheless, the relicensing went right down to the wire, with the renewal issued only a few days before the old one was about to expire. Opposition groups continued to file petitions long afterwards but to no avail. In 2008, Oyster Creek experienced small tritium leaks of the kind suffered by Vermont Yankee. The ASLB said they did not pose a public hazard and the leaks were quickly fixed.â€¨
â€¨While Oyster Creek passed all the federal tests, however, it finally ran aground last year when the ever-diligent New Jersey DEP came back with an announcement that it would require the plant to build cooling towers in order to avoid raising temperature in Barnegat Bay. DEP said that the warm water from the once-through cooling cycle was adversely affecting fish life. Exelon disputed the claim and said that spending billions to build the towers it would not be economically feasible. If the state persisted, it would close down the plant. Yesterday’s decision appeared to fulfill that promise.â€¨
â€¨Although the announcement may bring hosannas from the anti-nuclear crowd, there is probably less than meets the eye. The plant will remain open another nine years, long enough to reap a few billion in profits while fending off the state’s environmental demands. Many nuclear engineers may breathe a quiet sigh of relief, since there are inherent risks in running a 50-year-old plant.
â€¨Most of all, the loss of 8 percent of its electricity will give New Jersey officials the chance to deliver on their promise to replace Oyster Creek with thousands of 40-story windmills planted along the 125-mile New Jersey coastline. When the state drew up a long-term energy plan in 2006, nuclear expansion was given a big role. Environmental groups quickly beat up on Governor John Corzine, however, and by the time the plan was finalized in 2008 wind had replaced nuclear. New Republican Governor Chris Christie may have different plans but minus 600 MW of electricity the state will have to come up with something. Maybe a new nuclear reactor?