Proposed Nuclear Plant License Transfer Raises Concerns About Sufficient Retirement Funding

By GINA G. SCALA | May 08, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Forked River — With a decision that could spark the accelerated decommissioning of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station expected this summer and no word on whether public hearings on the license transfer application will be held, New Jersey ratepayers have seemingly taken a back seat in the proceedings. Until now.

In an April 10 letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Stefanie A. Brand, director of the state division of rate counsel, urged the federal agency to include criteria in any license transfer approval that ensures the decommissioning trust fund is sufficiently funded until the decommissioning is completed.

“A premature depletion of the trust funds or an inadequately funded licensee could compromise the quality of the work, leaving New Jersey residents to bear public health, safety, environmental and economic costs,” Brand wrote in her letter. She added that the rate counsel has a statutory obligation to represent the interest of utility ratepayers in all federal and state proceedings.

She went on to say the proposed license transfer raises concerns about whether the new limited liability companies created to handle the decommissioning of Oyster Creek, once the oldest commercial operating nuclear power plant in the country, have the financial resources and expertise to handle the task. Brand called Exelon Generation, which owns the Lacey Township-based nuclear plant, “a well-established and well-funded operator and owner licensee.”

The NRC last week announced its intention to render a decision on the Oyster Creek license transfer application by July 1. If approved, Holtec Decommissioning International, a subsidiary of the Camden-based Holtec International, an energy technology company, will resume responsibility for retiring the defunct plant.

Holtec submitted its Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report for the Oyster Creek power plant in September. It highlights an accelerated schedule for the prompt decommissioning of and the unrestricted release of the site. Those expedited plans do not include releasing the independent spent fuel storage installation, or spent fuel pad, on site. Holtec officials have said the company’s preferred method for decommissioning Oyster Creek was a decontamination method in which equipment, structures and portions of the facility and site that contain radioactive contaminants are promptly removed and decontaminated to a level that permits termination of the license shortly after cessation of operations.

The Holtec report for Oyster Creek calls for the transfer of spent nuclear fuel to the dry cask storage to be finalized in 2023, providing for the complete dismantlement of the reactor and turbine buildings. Radiological decommissioning, according to Holtec’s plan, is expected to be completed by 2024. That would allow full release of the Route 9 site.

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. 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 to Holtec.

— Gina G. Scala

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