Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lame-duck bill out to kill a NJ nuclear plant?

A new environmental bill, S-3041, has New Jersey's Oyster Creek nuclear power plant clearly in its crosshairs.

Branded as "anti-nuclear" by an industry blogger, the measure was introduced recently in the waning weeks of the current legislative session. Bills introduced this late generally have little chance of getting through the process before the session ends.

However, this piece of legislation has:

- an influential sponsor in Senator Bob Smith

- a hearing scheduled at 1 p.m. today (12/15) in the Senate Environment Committee, and

- an Assembly companion, A-4260, sponsored by Reed Gusciora

Is the bill designed to close down the nation's oldest nuclear-generating facility in Lacey Township--a facility that in April won federal approval to operate for an additional 20 years?

Consider this:

- The legislation would prohibit New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection from awarding any permit to an energy generation facility that takes up more than 170,000 gallons of water per day from a shallow lagoon, and

- The Oyster Creek plant draws in more than 1.4 billion gallons of water per day

That means the facility's owner, Exelon Nuclear, would have to come up with a way--within the legislation's two-year compliance period--to reduce the plant's cooling water use by some 88 percent.

Critics of the facility want Exelon to build cooling towers but the company says the expense of doing so would make the plant uneconomical.

One industry blogger has no doubt about the bill's intent.

John Wheeler writes in This Week in Nuclear that activists who were unsuccessful in challenging the plant's license extension:

"have been unable to show any safety or environmental basis for their cause, so they are taking another approach – trying to force the owners to make enormous plant modifications they hope will make the plant too expensive to operate."

On the flip side of the debate, The Asbury Park Press argues that the "too expensive to operate" defense is bogus. In an editorial appearing in yesterday's issue, the paper says:

"Exelon, which has been the most profitable U.S. utility over the past two years and bought Oyster Creek for a song — $10 million — 10 years ago, has returned an estimated $1 billion in profits since then, according to an Environment New Jersey analysis of financial statements. Three years ago, when the state DEP seemed poised to require cooling towers at Oyster Creek, Exelon claimed it would cost $700 million to $800 million to construct them, effectively forcing it to close the plant.

Independent estimates of the cost range from $50 million to $300 million. Amortized over 10 years, a cooling tower would not make a substantial dent in Exelon's handsome profits

Today's committee hearing is expected to draw a large crowd of fishermen, environmental activists and Oyster Creek plant employees. The arguments should be interesting. You can listen to the proceedings via the Legislature's online service.

Crowd expected for hearing on Oyster Creek cooling tower bill
Editorial: Don't back off on cooling tower

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