The nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear reactor is going to get older, and continue operating. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), by a vote of 3-1, will renew the license for the 650 MW Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, NJ, for another 20 years. The New York Times reports that in doing so the NRC rejected multiple claims submitted by opponents to close the plant.
The reactor entered revenue service in 1969 and over the years rust accumulated on its steel liner. Opponents claimed that the corrosion had weakened the liner and it would not be able to contain radioactive water in the event of a core accident. However, after NRC engineers evaluated the liner they decided it could still do the job.
The NRC concluded the opposition groups failed "to provide factual or expert evidence" to merit overturning the findings of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
"Nothing ... disturbs our overall confidence that Oyster Creek can and will operate safely during the renewal period," the commission concluded in its 96-page decision.
Anti-nuclear agenda thwarted for now
NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko (right) voted against license renewal and is often the lone vote representing the positions of anti-nuclear groups opposing the license renewal of older reactors. He previously worked for Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who’s primary contention with the NRC is over the review of the license application for Yucca Mountain.
The NRC is also considering the license renewals of the Indian Point, NY, nuclear power station and Vermont Yankee. Coincidentally, both of these sites are owned and operated by Entergy (NYSE:ETR), a major U.S. nuclear utility. Environmental groups are hoping that President Obama will name someone like Jaczko to the NRC’s vacant seat.
However, the NRC’s rejection of the usual grab bag of claims by anti-nuclear groups may indicate the agency is going to push back on political agendas aimed at influencing its evaluation of reactor license applications. The New York Times reported the NRC “sent a signal” that opponents of plant license renewals “may find it harder to prevail.” The NYT also reported that while Jaczko voted against renewal of the Oyster Creek license, in his remarks about the decision he said he agreed with parts of it.
Incendiary rhetoric lights the Jersey shore
In other developments anti-nuclear groups did not prevail with the argument that the threat of terrorist attacks requires the shutdown of the nation’s nuclear reactors. According to the Newark Star Ledger, a federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit in which anti-nuclear groups argued the NRC should consider the environmental impact of a terrorist attack before relicensing the plant.
Opponents pushing for closing the plant are the Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch Inc.; Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety; New Jersey Public Interest Research Group; New Jersey Sierra Club; and New Jersey Environmental Federation.
In case anyone thinks dialog with this group is going to produce some benefit, consider this incendiary comment by one of them.
"This decision is radioactive. To keep open the nation's oldest nuclear power plant for another 20 years is just going to lead to a disaster," said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club. "We could easily replace the plant with 200 windmills that will not pose a danger. If they would re-license this plant, they would renew Chernobyl."
This kind of rhetoric is irresponsible and serves only to create divisive debate. At least for now the NRC sees it for what it is, political rhetoric, and not evidence of engineering facts.
~ Previous coverage on this blog ~
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