Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant

Istock Nuclear Photo

Clean Water Action is calling for immediate closure and full decommissioning of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the oldest nuclear power plant in the country, located in Lacey Township, New Jersey. 

The plant is scheduled to close in 2019, however, we are calling for early closure due to rising public health and safety concerns. The decommissioning would employ the plant's workforce for up to a dozen years, and include moving more 750 metric tons of highly radioactive waste from an overhead cooling pool into more secure dry cask storage.

Mechanical problems continue to mount at the plant.

In 2014, federal regulators moved toward increased oversight following an unplanned, emergency shutdown after valves that control steam pressure malfunctioned. It was the fifth unplanned shutdown since 2013, and as time goes by for the corroding dinosaur plant, mechanical problems continue to mount.

Investigators are looking for the cause, and also determining if plant owners, Exelon, are skipping costly repairs and maintenance since the plant will close in 2019.

Feds cancel NJ nuke cancer study already underway

Hopes that federal nuclear regulators might demonstrate real concern for people living in frontline communities were squashed recently when a cancer study around nuclear power plants was abruptly cancelled. Citing cost and difficulty, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission halted a study to determine if there are elevated pediatric cancer rates in communities surrounding nuclear power plants.

Saying Congressional money must be spent "wisely," the NRC decided that looking into childhood cancer rates was not worth the expense. Nuclear power plants, including Oyster Creek, emit daily low-level radiological releases into the environment. A government report in the late Nineties had concluded that no level of continuous radiation exposure can be considered safe. It's difficult not to conclude that the NRC didn't want to learn the results of this updated research. Equipment failure leads to another unplanned recent shutdown at the plant. Federal regulators issued a "yellow" finding and increased oversight.

Oyster Creek is another Fukushima waiting to happen

Oyster Creek's design is the same as Fukushima' and inherently flawed. Its reactor cavity is undersized and would not be adequate to contain the huge amount of radioactive steam produced in the event of core damage. As a retrofit, vents were installed in the late Eighties, but they lack radiation filters and don't open automatically. If there was a catastrophic event, clouds of highly radioactive steam would be blasted into surrounding communities.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has consistently ignored recommendations from senior staff who advocated for radiation filters, and upgrades to the vents so that they would open automatically. Reports indicate that operators at Fukushima delayed opening the vents knowing they would be unleashing highly radioactive steam on their families, friends, and homes.

Oyster Creek is an unnecessary risk to New Jersey. It's contribution to the grid can be offset through energy efficiency, and renewables. The 1,100 megawatts of solar energy produced in state last year easily exceeded Oyster Creek's 650 megawatt output.

After 46 years of exposing the public to radiological releases, tritium leaks into the groundwater, thermal pollution of Barnegat Bay, and fish kills, the least Exelon can do is clean up their mess when they close. That will take political will and sustained efforts from the environmental community and concerned citizens. 

The Closure of Oyster Creek

On December 16, 2010, we celebrated a victory when Governor Christie announced closure of Oyster Creek Nuclear plant in 2019 instead of NRC's permission to allow OC to operate through 2029. This announcement came as a result of our pressure to require cooling towers at the plant and Exelon's refusal to do so, leading to its ultimate shut down. This shutdown is a win for the long-term health of Barnegat Bay and a signal that water protection concers are key considerations at Oyster Creek and other plants nationwide.

Nuclear plants, especially older ones like Oyster Creek, pose serious water problems. In addition to leaks, these plants consume and waste large quantities of water in the cooling process. Throughout the entire nuclear cycle, from mining and processing into fuel, to plant operations and the still-unsolved waste management challenges, this technology places our water at risk and adds to the already-staggering costs.

The planned closure of Oyster Creek has opened up new avenues for the state to pursue green technology and create jobs. We now have more tools at our disposal to save the Barnegat Bay and prevent future public and ecological harm from radiation, fish kills, and thermal pollution.

Even though the plant will shut down, a majority of the work force will be employed through a decommissioning phase that could last a decade, and the security and management of the tons of accumulated radioactive nuclear waste will continue forever. Clean Water Action will continue our work as advocates with the administration and all stakeholders to restore the bay, and ensure a just transition for workers.

Barnegat Bay at Risk

Over 500,000 people live within the Barnegat Bay watershed year round, with double that number due to summer. The Barnegat Bay estuary covers 42 miles of shoreline and is home to crabs, fish, birds, and other wildlife. The continued economic and environmental health of the watershed and estuary is dependent on the continued health of its waters.

Right now Barnegat Bay is literally dying because of excessive environmental pollution. In addition to problems from storm water runoff, it faces extreme pressure from Oyster Creek's outdated design and structural/environmental/safety problems.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) recently announced that new test results that found groundwater contamination from Exelon's nuclear plant was greater than expected, having spread to the Cohansey aquifer, a major source of drinking water for South Jerseyans. The radioactive contaminant, tritium, was found at over 50 times the federal drinking water standard.

Currently the plant operates without cooling towers. This means that every day the plant is allowed to send 1.4 billion gallons of superheated discharge water into the bay, releasing harmful chemicals and causing major ecosystem disruption and fish kills - a clear violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

It's time for Oyster Creek to close, and a full decommissioning that would employ about 650 skilled workers for up to 15 years should begin as soon as the reactor is switched off. For more information, call 732-963-9714 or email njcwa@cleanwater.org.