Oyster Creek Nuclear License Transfer Decision Expected in Summer

By GINA SCALA | May 01, 2019

Forked River, NJ — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is likely to render its decision on the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station license transfer application that would, if approved, allow Holtec Decommissioning International to kick-start the process of retiring the defunct plant by July 1.

Exelon Generation, which operated Oyster Creek until it shut down in September 2018, along with HDI, part of the Camden-based Holtec International energy conglomerate, submitted the license transfer application on Aug. 31, 2018. The companies requested a decision on the application be made by May 1.

In a separate but related matter, the presidentially appointed commission that oversees the NRC is expected to rule on two requests for a hearing on the license transfer application, said Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC Region 1 office. One of those requests is from Lacey Township, which is home to the shuttered Oyster Creek plant. The other hearing request is from the Sierra Club.

“There is no timeframe available on when the commission may rule on the hearing requests,” Sheehan said earlier this week. “I can just tell you the staff intends to issue a decision on the application by July 1.”

Last month, the NRC issued its environmental assessment relating to Exelon Generation’s request for an exemption from certain emergency planning requirements to kick in at 285 days after permanent defueling of the plant, not the normal 365-day requirement. Exelon cited a new zirconium fire analysis that shows the possibility of fire in the spent fuel pool will be reduced to a point of significantly less risk sooner than initially estimated, Sheehan said.

In rendering its environmental assessment, NRC staff determined moving up the effective dates for certain emergency planning requirements would not significantly affect plant safety or increase the probability of an accident happening. “The proposed action would not have a significant effect on the environment. The reason the human environment would not be significantly affected is that the proposed exemption would not involve any construction or modification of the facility.”

Using the same updated zirconium fire analysis, Exelon, in a separate request, asked that an exemption from on-site property damage, off-site primary and secondary liability insurance begin 285 days after the permanent shutdown of Oyster Creek.

“Thirty-three days after shutdown, it is no longer possible for the radiological consequences of a design basis accident at OCNGS to exceed the limits of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency early phase Protective Action Guides at the exclusion area boundary,” said the NRC decision to grant the insurance exemption request.

Further, the reduction in the amount of onsite insurance coverage and the proposed reduction in the zirconium fire period does not impact the probability or consequences of potential accidents.

“The proposed level of insurance coverage is commensurate with the reduced risk and reduced cost consequences of potential nuclear incidents at OCNGS in a permanently defueled condition,” the NRC said. “Therefore, granting the requested exemption will not present an undue risk to the health and safety of the public.”

Additionally, the NRC completed its quarterly Decommissioning Power Reactor Inspection Program at the shuttered plant March 30, following on-site inspections Jan. 28-31, March 7 and March 26. “The inspection included a review of organization and management at the site; safety reviews, design changes and modifications; self-assessments, audits and corrective actions; and decommissioning performance and surveillance,” according to an executive summary of the inspection report. “Based on the results of this inspection, no findings of safety significance were identified.”

In February 2018, Exelon Generation announced its plans to permanently shut down Oyster Creek more than 14 months before a December 2019 deadline agreed to with the state of New Jersey. Doing so negated the state’s calls for retrofitting the plant with cooling towers at the Route 9 site. Five months later, the Pennsylvania-based utility company, part of the Illinois-based Exelon energy companies, indicated a willingness to return more than half of the site to Lacey Township officials once decommissioning was complete. Two weeks later, on July 31, it announced plans to sell Oyster Creek, once the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant, to Holtec.

— Gina G. Scala


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