State Safety Panel to Oversee Decommissioning of Defunct Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant

By Gina G. Scala | Oct 09, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Trenton — More than a year after the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station was permanently taken offline, the state’s top environmental official re-established a safety advisory committee to oversee the decommissioning of the shuttered Ocean County plant. Catherine R. McCabe, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, will chair the Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel. Other members include the New Jersey State Police superintendent and the director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness as well as the Board of Public Utilities president or one of their respective designees.

The main goal of the panel is to assist the DEP with evaluating Holtec International’s compliance with a January 2018 administrative consent order regulating decommissioning at what was once the nation’s oldest operating nuclear power plant. Holtec, a Camden-based electric technology company, assumed the obligations when it purchased Oyster Creek from Exelon Generation in July.

This summer, Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove and Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf (all R-9th) asked Gov. Phil Murphy to bring back the Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel after a request was made following a meeting with the Concerned Citizens of Lacey Coalition.

“The individuals comprising the coalition remain dedicated to protecting the safety of residents, as we are, and have provided invaluable insight and expertise on the decommissioning process,” the legislators said in a recent statement supporting the panel. “Our delegation called for reconstituting the Safety Advisory Panel in view of the lack of information at the time from the NRC, despite repeated requests from residents and elected officials. Further, we felt it would be prudent to put the State in a position to play a more active role in determining, to the greatest extent possible, how decommissioning of the Oyster Creek facility will be conducted.”

Once convened, the panel will meet at least twice per year and will provide specifics of how the public can participate. Currently, residents can communicate directly with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and with Holtec during their stakeholder information forums.

From the beginning, Holtec officials have said they plan to kickstart the decommissioning process at the defunct Oyster Creek site on Route 9 in Lacey Township. Part of those plans include beginning to move nuclear waste from the spent fuel pool before the end of the typical five-year cooling-off period.

Under its decommissioning plans, Holtec Decommissioning International will move used fuel from its place in the spent nuclear pool to an onsite dry storage facility after the nuclear waste has cooled for 2½ years. All of the Oyster Creek’s used nuclear fuel was moved to its spent fuel pool in September 2018, about a week after the plant ceased operations for good.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized the moving of spent fuel to dry storage as early as three years after it was moved to the spent fuel pool. The industry average, according to the NRC, is 10 years.

As with other shuttered nuclear power plants, spent nuclear fuel will remain onsite at Oyster Creek until such a time as there is either an interim repository or a permanent one, like Yucca Mountain was expected to be. The NRC is still reviewing an application from Holtec International to build and operate phase one of an interim repository on approximately 1,040 acres of land in Lea County, N.M.

Holtec is asking for the authorization to store 5,000 metric tons of uranium (MTUs) in roughly 500 spent nuclear fuel canisters under a 40-year license. The 500 canisters have the potential to hold up to 8,680 MTUs from various commercial nuclear reactors as well as a small amount of spent mixed-oxide fuel.

Should Holtec clear the first hurdle and be licensed for phase one, it is fully expected the company will ask for additional amendments to its license to expand the storage capacity at the New Mexico facility, according to Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 office. Under its proposal, the company would expand the facility in 19 subsequent phases, each for an additional 500 canisters, to be completed over the course of 20 years, Sheehan has said.

— Gina G. Scala

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