Oyster Creek: Thirty Months to Shut Off

Decommissioning Options for Oldest Nuclear Generating Station
May 10, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds WHAT NEXT?: Opened in 1969, Oyster Creek, a boiling water reactor in Forked River, is oldest in the U.S. It sits on 800 acres adjacent Oyster Creek, its cooling water source.

Exelon Corp. filed its annual decommissioning funds report for the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently as required when a plant is within five years of permanently coming offline.

Next month, Oyster Creek, the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the nation, will officially be 2½ years from its early expiration date. Exelon was granted a 20-year license renewal by the NRC, which would allow Oyster Creek to operator as a base-load electricity generator through April 9, 2029. Instead, the Lacey Township-based nuke will come offline Dec. 31, 2019, in an agreement Exelon struck with the state to forgo cooling towers at the site.

The Illinois-based Exelon has not announced formal plans for how it will handle decommissioning Oyster Creek once it’s offline. There are two options for companies that operate nuke plants, safe storage or decontamination, Neil Sheehan, NRC public affairs officer for Region 1, said. A company can use either method, or a combination of the two. They have 60 years to complete decommissioning of a nuclear power plant.

Decontamination is often associated with immediate decommissioning, and allows the operators to remove equipment and materials with higher levels of radiation, such as spent nuclear fuel rods, he said. In safe storage, a nuclear power plant is maintained as is and positioned in protective storage for an extensive period of time, Sheehan said.

In Vermont, Entergy Corp., which operated Vermont Yankee before its December 2014 closure, initially chose to “mothball” the plant and use all 60 years to decommission it, he said. Last fall, the company elected to sell the nuke to NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based company, to handle decommissioning of the plant. The sale includes the $574.9 million decommissioning funds. It is subject to approval from the Vermont Public Service Board and the NRC.

“The devil is in the details,” Sheehan said, adding there are pros and cons to immediate decommissioning and safe storage.

The pros for safe storage: significant radioactive decay, which reduces the exposure for contractors decommissioning the plant. Another pro, Sheehan said, is safe storage allow a company’s decommissioning funds to mature if they are under funded. The con, he said, is not having access to “the people who worked there” and know all the unique features of a plant.

Whether a nuclear plant is immediately decommissioned or placed in safe storage, security is still needed. That’s a pro for immediate decommissioning when an operating company can shrink the facilities footprint, and still provide security, he said.

“The cost (of operating) is going to go down anyway,” Sheehan said, adding there will be impacts to the community and environment when Oyster Creek comes offline.  “When Vermont Yankee came offline, they saw an increase in carbon emissions.”

In January, ISO New England, an independent system operator for the six New England states, released its latest Electric Generator Air Emissions Report, which found high carbon dioxide emission rates across the region for the first time in 10 years. After Vermont Yankee ceased operating in December 2014, the region saw a 2.9 percent increase in carbon emissions, according to the latest report. Carbon dioxide accounted for 2.5 percent in 2015 alone, the report found.

In New York state, part of the discussion surrounding the closing of nuclear plants is what will replace them, Sheehan said, but companies “are  under no obligation to us” if they choose to re-power a site with a non-nuclear plant.

Exelon is required to file a post-shutdown decommissioning activities report before or within two years of Oyster Creek’s closure, he said. The report must include an account and timetable for the planned decommissioning activities, a guesstimate of anticipated costs, and a plan to handle environmental impacts linked to decommissioning activities.

Oyster Creek is a single-unit boiling water reactor, located in Lacey Township on 800 acres neighboring Oyster Creek. It first came online in December 1969, and is one of four nuclear power plants licensed to operate in New Jersey. Salem Nuclear Power Plant has two units, and the fourth unit is at Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station.

— Gina G. Scala


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