NJ State Utilities Board Undertakes Nuclear Zero-Emission Program

Sep 12, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

In an effort to improve and expand the state’s clean energy programs, the N.J. Board of Public Utilities has been charged with creating a zero-emission credit program for eligible nuclear power plants. The proceedings begin just as the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is slated to start its final outage and cease operations permanently.

“Nuclear power is an important piece of the state’s energy puzzle,” Joseph L. Fiordaliso, BPU president, said. “The board and its staff take seriously the responsibility to analyze nuclear power plant financial information and applications and determine whether the credits are warranted.”

The measure is expected to preserve the state’s nuclear energy supply, which contributes close to 40 percent of electric capacity, according to the board’s statement announcing the program. Nuclear energy is by far the state’s largest source of carbon-free energy, the statement continued.

Senate Bill 2313, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed earlier this year, designates the BPU as the agency in charge of creating and administering the program for the state. The process of doing so will include public hearings, and a separate proceeding to certify what nuclear power plants qualify to receive the credits. Under the law, the process must be completed by April 2019. Fiordaliso will preside over the process and is authorized to rule on all motions that result from the creation of the program and the implementation process.

“The BPU is moving forward with this unneeded $300 million a year subsidy for nuclear plants,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said recently. “Get ready to grab your wallets again; this giveaway to utilities will cost us $45 a year. Since Exelon’s Oyster Creek plant is closing, they are taking applications from out-of-state plants.”

Oyster Creek produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough electricity to supply 600,000 typical homes, the equivalent to all homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined. The facility is a single-unit boiling water reactor, located on 800 acres neighboring Oyster Creek. It is one of four nuclear power plants licensed to operate in New Jersey. Salem Nuclear Power Plant has two units; the fourth unit is at Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station.

Earlier this year, Exelon Generation, which owns and operates the Lacey Township-based nuke, announced it would cease operations at the plant more than 14 months ahead of schedule. The December 2019 timeline was the result of an agreement the utility giant struck with the state in 2010 to avoid building cooling towers at the site. Although it accelerated plans to close the plant, the company elected the safe storage decommissioning strategy. In safe storage, a facility is left intact or may be partially dismantled, but the fuel is removed from the reactor and radioactive liquids are drained from the systems and components, then processed. Radioactive decay occurs during safe storage, lowering the level of contamination and radioactivity that must be disposed of during decontamination and dismantlement.

The decommissioning process for Oyster Creek, once one of the largest employers in Ocean County and the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuke plant, was expected to take the full 60 years permitted under federal law.

In July, Exelon Generation announced it had reached a deal with Holtec International, a New Jersey-based energy technology company, to purchase the plant and take over its decommissioning duties. The two companies jointly filed a license transfer application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last month. If approved, the sale would take effect sometime in the third quarter of 2019. Holtec officials have previously said they would get to work decommissioning the nuke as soon as possible.

Holtec’s plans for Oyster Creek are for the immediate dismantling, or DECON strategy. Following a DECON decommissioning strategy, the equipment, structures and areas of the facility and the site that contain radioactive materials are swiftly removed or decontaminated to a level that allows for license termination quickly after shutting down.

Under the expeditious timeline, Holtec plans to use a new proprietary cask design for storing still-hot spent nuclear fuel. It would cut the wait time by nearly half, according to company representatives.

Currently, dry cask storage permits spent fuel that has cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least one year to be surrounded by inert gas, generally helium, inside a container. The process begins with placing a stainless-steel canister holding the fuel rod bundles into the spent fuel pool. The fuel assemblies are lifted by a crane from metal racks at the bottom of the pool before being inserted into the canister. A lid is then placed on it.

Holtec’s timeline calls for this process to begin with still-hot spent fuel being moved sometime next year with a 2021 completion date, with fuel removal from the site by 2034 and full license termination by 2035. The Camden-based company’s plans prompted questions from NRC officials and concerns from members of the public.

— Gina G. Scala


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