Saturday, January 5, 2008

NJ nuke's relicensing looks like a done deal

What an difference a year makes.

In 1906, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine told the Asbury Park Press editorial board: “I don’t think this [plant] should be relicensed for 20 years under any circumstances.”

He was talking about Exelon's Oyster Creek nuclear generating station in Forked River (Lacey Township), the nation's oldest operating nuclear power plant, which had then recently petitioned the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to renew its operating license for an additional 20 years.

But on Dec. 28, 2007, after two previous denials, New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) declared that Exelon's coastal management plan for the site was consistent with the state's plan.

That approval was immediately recognized as the last step needed before the NRC could decide whether to relicense the 619-megawatt reactor. It provoked a furious responses from environmentalists and Barnegat Bay area residents who believe the plant is too old to be operated safely and want it closed when its current license expires in 2009.

"Governor Corzine gave Barnegat Bay the spent fuel rod shaft by granting Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station a green light for 20 more years of marine life annihilation," fumed Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action.

The DEP sought to cushion the blow by announcing that Exelon had agreed to a series of "Barnegat Bay enhancements," including the preservation of a 220-acre site in Lacey with a boat launch, parking area for cars and boat trailers, construction of a nature center, and improvements to 5.4 miles of walking trails. The company also agreed to restore 170 acres of tidal wetlands located near the plant, 50 acres of hard clam beds within the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone adjacent to Island Beach State Park and five acres of oyster beds at a location to be determined later.

DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson also stressed that the generating station still needs a New Jersey Pollutant Discharge System permit for the operation of its cooling system.

Nonetheless, the timing of the approval was awkward, at best, for the state since a temporary shutdown at the plant last month resulted in the deaths of more than 5,300 fish when water temperatures near the plant's discharge dropped.

Energy industry experts privately have been predicting that the governor would drop his opposition to the relicensing, since the state has no reasonably priced alternative to the plant which generates enough electricity to power some 495,000 New Jersey homes each year.

For more, see related stories by Reuters, the Associated Press, Atlantic City Press, Asbury Park Press Star-Ledger and a DEP news release.

Sidebar: Although Oyster Creek is referred to in most media accounts as the oldest nuclear power plant in the nation, the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station, near Oswego, N.Y., went online Dec. 1, 1969 -- the same day as Oyster Creek. The New Jersey plant's license was granted first, though, technically making it the nation's oldest. The New York state facility has already won relicensing through 2029.

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