Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Update on nuclear energy in New Jersey

The future is getting brighter for reactors in the garden state

new_jersey mapNew Jersey is one of the most urbanized states in the union on its northern half, but in the southern tier the pine barrens offer open spaces and shoreline sites for 3,984 MW of nuclear reactor power spread across four reactors. Three of them, near the Delaware Bay, are owned by PSEG and one by Exelon (NYSE:EXC), is on the eastern ocean shore at Barnegat Bay.

Nuclear reactors generate 51% of the electricity used in the state. Natural gas accounts for 30% and coal 16%.

While the Oyster Creek plant, which is the smallest at 619 MW, has generated the most controversy, that situation may be turning around.

Also, there are new developments for the reactors owned by PSEG. This week the utility announced plans to submit a proposal to the NRC to produce cobalt-60 at the Hope Creek site. The utility also said it plans to submit an early site permit for a new reactor at the Hope Creek site in May 2010.

Oyster Creek update

On Jan 7 the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft water discharge permit for the Oyster Creek nuclear plant. The draft requires the plant to replace its once-through cooling system with cooling towers. The price tag is said by Exelon, the owner of the plant, to be ruinously expensive. The utility has said it will shut down the BWR reactor rather than build the towers.

PermitEnvironmental groups are behind the drive for cooling towers. They claim the intake system traps large fish on the intake screens and sends smaller organisms through the cooling pipes. These claims are more political rhetoric than science fact.

First, the number of organisms impacted by the cooling system is quite small compared to the overall population.

Second, studies by Rutgers University Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences have found that fish mortality is increasing in Barnegat Bay due to high nutrient levels that diminish oxygen supplies. The nutrients come from lawn fertilizer and organic runoff, including point sources from secondary treatment plants and the lack of it, along the bay.

Third, the cooling towers will double the water through the intake pipes increasing fish kills.

In public hearings held in late February, Exelon cited the studies on nutrient loading as a critical factor in the health of the bay’s ecosystems. Environmental groups called the utility’s claim it will close the plant “a scare tactic.”

The draft permit was issued in the closing days of the administration of Gov. Jon Corzine. New NJ Gov Chris Chistie criticized the action calling it a “last minute” political ploy. However, he is letting stakeholders have their say in the hearings.

Bob Martin, the new commissioner for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection said in a media interview Feb 6 he’s not committed to the cooling towers. For the time being, he said, he wants to see what the public thinks and get up to speed on a broad range of issues facing his agency. This response suggests the cooling tower issue could cool its heels as a back burner issue for the agency.

Bottom line the cooling towers won’t save fish, will kill the plant, and environmental groups will not count the cost of fossil electricity purchased to replace the carbon emission free power from Oyster Creek.

Hope Creek seeks cobalt production role

Cobalt-60_The Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG, which owns and operates the Hope Creek nuclear reactor, a 1,061 MW BWR which came online in December 1986, has submitted a proposal to the NRC to produce cobalt-60 at the plant.

Nonradioactive cobalt occurs naturally in various minerals and has long been used as a blue coloring agent for ceramic and glass. Radioactive Co-60 is produced commercially through linear acceleration for use in medicine and industry. Co-60 also is a byproduct of nuclear reactor operations, when metal structures, such as steel rods, are exposed to neutron radiation.

According to the NRC press release of March 2, PSEG seeks permission to alter the reactor’s core by inserting up to 12 modified fuel assemblies with rods containing Cobalt-59 pellets, which would absorb neutrons during reactor operation and become Cobalt-60.

PSEG’s pilot program would gather data to verify that the modified fuel assemblies perform satisfactorily in service prior to use on a production basis. PSEG has informed the NRC that if the amendment is granted, the company plans to insert the modified assemblies during Hope Creek’s planned fall 2010 refueling outage.

According to World Nuclear News, most of the world's cobalt-60 supply, 80% or more, has been produced at Canada's National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River. However, this 50 year old reactor has been offline for essential repairs for many months and will not return until April 2010 or later.

Cobalt-60 is used to treat cancer and sterilize medical and consumer products. It is the basis for food irradiation technology which vastly extends the shelf life of otherwise perishable products.

In January 2010 the NRC approved a license amendment for Exelon’s Clinton Nuclear Power station in Illinois to produce Cobalt-60. GE-Hitachi has deals with both PSEG and Exelon to market the isotopes to end-users.

PSEG to submit ESP for new reactor at Hope Creek

hope creek in NJThe Atlantic City Press reported March 2 PSEG will submit an early site permit to the NRC in May 2010. The application does not obligate the company to build a plant. A spokesman for PSEG told the newspaper:

"It does not designate what kind of reactor technology it will use. We don't know if it will be one unit or two or what its megawatt output will be."

The NRC review can take up to two years. If PSEG decided to take the next step, it would submit a license application to the NRC. It could take a year or two to prepare the paperwork. Once the NRC dockets the application, a 42-month clock starts ticking for the review. Additional approvals would be needed from state and local governments.

The spokesman also told the Atlantic City Press the the company plans to choose from a standardized plant design. By the time the utility submits a license application, it could have as many as five to choose from including designs from Westinghouse, Areva, GE-Hitachi (2 reactor designs), and Mitsubishi.

PSEG’s spokesman said:

"The way plants were built years ago, no two plants are alike. The NRC is looking at certified designs - four or five designs you can build - to try to get some uniformity across the industry. This will lead to better pricing and also the compatibility of components so one piece of equipment works in a dozen plants around the country. You don't have to do retrofits on components."

Anti-nuclear activist Norm Cohen of the group Unplug Salem, told the newspaper his group thinks the current reactor site is unstable and cannot support another unit. The group’s unequivocal aim is to close all nuclear power plants in NJ and prevent any new reactors from being built.

In fact, the reactor is one of three at the site which is not seismically active. It is located about 50 miles southwest of Camden, NJ. (map)

In April 2007 when the proposal for a new reactor for the site was first aired by PSEG, company spokesman Paul Rosengren told the Delaware News Journal:

"Clearly, the location in South Jersey was originally envisioned for four units. It has three. It makes sense to look at that site, which has some infrastructure advantages.

If you are going to get serious about carbon emissions, you need to take a serious look at the potential expansion of nuclear power."

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