Exelon Closing Oyster Creek Nuke Plant Ahead of Schedule

Citing financial costs and better opportunities for employees, Exelon Corp., the Illinois-based utility that owns and operates the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey Township, announced last week the nation’s oldest power plant will come permanently offline later this year, 14 months earlier than anticipated.

“We will offer a position elsewhere in Exelon to every employee that wishes to stay with the company, and we thank our neighbors for the privilege of allowing us to serve New Jersey for almost 50 years,” said Bryan Hanson, Exelon president and chief nuclear officer.

The company’s decision to close the aging plant will also help it manage resources as fuel and maintenance costs continue to rise amid historically low power prices, according to a press statement issued Feb. 2.

In the months ahead, Exelon Generation will work with local officials, state agencies and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to plan for long-term decommissioning of the plant. Oyster Creek’s approximately 500 employees will continue to operate the plant until October. Some will stay on to carefully decommission the facility after shut-down.

“We learned of the decision last Friday morning,” Neil Sheehan, NRC public affairs officer for Region 1, said. “Numerous other U.S. nuclear power plants have been decommissioned. It is a well-known and tested process that is protective of public health and safety. Exelon will need to provide us with a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, which will provide details on how it intends to carry out the work.”

Exelon was granted a 20-year license renewal by the NRC, which would allow Oyster Creek to operator as a base-load electricity generator through April 9, 2029. Instead, the nuke was scheduled to come offline Dec. 31, 2019, in an agreement Exelon struck with the state to forgo building cooling towers at the site.

Exelon has not announced formal plans for how it will handle decommissioning Oyster Creek once it’s offline. There are two options for companies that operate nuke plants – safe storage or decontamination, Sheehan said. A company can use either method, or a combination of the two. They have 60 years to complete decommissioning of a nuclear power plant.

Decontamination is often associated with immediate decommissioning and allows the operators to remove equipment and materials with higher levels of radiation, such as spent nuclear fuel rods, he said. In safe storage, a nuclear power plant is maintained as is and positioned in protective storage for an extensive period of time.

In Vermont, Entergy Corp., which operated Vermont Yankee before its December 2014 closure, initially chose to “mothball” the plant and use all 60 years to decommission it, Sheehan said. Last fall, the company elected to sell the nuke to NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based company, to handle decommissioning of the plant. The sale includes the $574.9 million decommissioning funds. It is subject to approval from the Vermont Public Service Board and the NRC.

“The devil is in the details,” Sheehan said, adding there are pros and cons to immediate decommissioning and safe storage.

One pro for safe storage is significant radioactive decay, which reduces the exposure for contractors decommissioning the plant. Another pro, Sheehan said, is safe storage allows a company’s decommissioning funds to mature if they are underfunded. The con, he said, is not having access to “the people who worked there” and know all the unique features of a plant.

Whether a nuclear plant is immediately decommissioned or placed in safe storage, security is still needed. That’s a pro for immediate decommissioning when an operating company can shrink the facility’s footprint and still provide security, he said.

“Exelon should not be allowed to shut the door and leave their filthy, deadly garbage behind,” said Janet Tauro, New Jersey board chairwoman of Clean Water Action. “Exelon’s decommissioning fund was financed through a surcharge on ratepayers’ electric bills, and that money should stay in New Jersey and be used for keeping the workers employed by taking apart the plant piece by radioactive piece.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, noted Exelon owns half of two other New Jersey-based nuclear plants, and its announcement about Oyster Creek comes while it pushes for a nuclear subsidy bill. Two of the plants looking for subsidies, Salem 1 and 2, operate without cooling towers to mitigate for fish kills.

“Gov. Murphy’s proposal for offshore wind is six times the amount of energy we got from Oyster Creek,” he said. “We must continue working to stop this nuclear subsidy sell-out and instead push for safe, renewable energy in New Jersey.”

For years, Tittel has argued in favor of the plant’s closure, citing equipment failure, inspector violations, compressor and pump problems, and drywall liner erosion.

“This plant is the oldest operating nuclear plant in the country and should have been closed years ago. It is like driving a 1969 Chevy Nova in the age of Tesla,” he said.

Oyster Creek produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough electricity to supply 600,000 typical homes, the equivalent to all homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined. The facility is a single-unit boiling water reactor, located on 800 acres neighboring Oyster Creek. It is one of four nuclear power plants licensed to operate in New Jersey. Salem Nuclear Power Plant has two units; the fourth unit is at Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station.

Reposted from The Sandpaper