NRC Reopens Public Comment on Oyster Creek Generating Station License Transfer Application

Dec 12, 2018

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced this week it would reinstate the public comment period on the now defunct Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station’s license transfer application until after the New Year. The initial comment period ended more than a month ago.

Whether a letter from New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker played a role in the federal agency’s decision to accept public comment on the matter until Jan. 9 is unclear.

In Booker’s Nov. 16 letter, sent to the federal agency a week after the first public comment period ended on Nov. 8, the senator noted the NRC will be considering more than just a request to transfer the license of the shuttered plant, once the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant. Those requests include a general license for the Oyster Creek Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) plus the amended facility operating license and ISFSI general license that would reflect the proposed transfer.

“The transfer of this license would change the parties responsible for decommissioning and, therefore, deserves a thorough review,” Booker wrote, adding the NRC’s review of the application would benefit from an extended public comment period.

In July, Exelon Generation, which currently owns the nuclear plant, announced plans to sell the facility to Holtec International, a Camden-based company that specializes in spent fuel management technologies. On Aug. 31, the two companies jointly submitted an application to begin the license transfer process, asking for a decision on the application by May 1, 2019.

Holtec officials in a pre-submission meeting with NRC officials said they would like to begin decommissioning Oyster Creek, which was permanently taken offline Sept. 16 of this year. It’s their intention to expedite the dismantling of the nuclear plant and return the site, located on 779 acres of land in the Forked River section of Lacey Township, to unrestricted use, with the exclusion of the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, or spent fuel pad, on site in less than a decade. Exelon’s post-shutdown activity plans included taking the full 60 years permitted under federal law.

“It’s not unusual for us to extend public comment periods on significant licensing actions, such as a license transfer review,” Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC Region 1 office, said. “In this case, there has been public interest in the review that has included a citizens’ group in Lacey Township.”

Just last month, the Concerned Citizens of Lacey Coalition as well as Lacey Township officials sent a petition for leave to intervene and a request for a public hearing to the NRC on the license application. The New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club also requested a public hearing on the matter.

Citing financial and safety concerns, Lacey Township officials charged their attorney in the matter with filing the appropriate paperwork with the NRC so they could be heard on the application. In the Nov. 8 letter, the attorney, Lauren R. Staiger, wrote township officials are “keenly interested in the decommissioning process” as well as the proposed license transfer from Exelon Generation to Oyster Creek Environmental Protection, LLC (OCEP) as the license owner and Holtec Decommissioning International, LLC (HDI) as the licensed operator.

“As the geographical host to Oyster Creek, the township and its residents have health, safety, and environmental and concerns related to the decommissioning and spent fuel storage,” according to the paperwork filed with the NRC Nov. 8, the final day to request a public hearing on the license transfer. “The township further has concerns related to the financial management of the decommissioning, as the township believes there are no guarantees that if there is a shortfall in the decommissioning fund for Oyster Creek that its residents will not be in some way responsible to make up the difference.”

Holtec International is also facing challenges to its application for an interim spent nuclear fuel repository in New Mexico. Earlier this month, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an arm of the NRC, ordered a pre-hearing conference on the New Jersey company’s plans after the feds received nearly a dozen filings for public hearings and petitions to intervene from 18 organizations in seven states.

“The Oyster Creek license transfer proposal will be reviewed separately from the Holtec interim repository application,” Sheehan said.

— Gina G. Scala

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