Possible Nuclear Power Plant Sale Could Expedite Decommissioning

Under New Owner, Oyster Creek’s Full Retirement Within Eight Years
Aug 01, 2018
File Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The possible sale of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to a New Jersey-based company known globally for its used nuke fuel management technologies could accelerate decommissioning at the nation’s oldest commercial nuclear plant by almost five decades.

Yesterday, July 31, Exelon Generation announced its intention to sell the Lacey Township-based nuke, slated to permanently cease operations on Sept. 17, to Holtec International, based in Camden. Before the sale of the plant could take place, the companies must apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transfer the plant’s license.

“We would review the proposal to ensure the new owner had the technical and financial capabilities to safely decommission the plant,” Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC Region 1, said yesterday, “and to appropriately manage the spent nuclear fuel until such time that there is a permanent or interim repository able to receive it. The plan would also need approvals from other agencies, such as the state Board of Public Utilities.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Holtec would assume ownership of the site, real property and used nuclear fuel. As the site’s owner, Holtec would manage all site decommissioning and restoration activities.

“The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2019, pending the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s and other regulatory approval, and will not impact the scheduled shutdown of Oyster Creek, as previously announced,” according to Exelon Generation, the owner of the nation’s largest group of nuclear energy facilities. “Holtec will be accelerating Oyster Creek’s decommissioning timeline with the highest standard of safety, quality and environmental stewardship.”

Bryan Hanson, chief nuclear officer for the Illinois-based company, said the possible sale would allow many plant employees previously facing relocation to continue living and working in the Garden State.

“It is with wistful pride that we, a New Jersey-born company which has spread around the globe, will take over the state’s oldest nuclear plant and decommission it with the latest technologies that will preserve the pristine New Jersey shore and accrete minimal dose to the workers. We hope to offer job opportunities to the many Oyster Creek-based Exelon employees who may wish to pursue exciting career opportunities with our company,” Kris Singh, Holtec’s president and CEO, said in a joint release with Exelon Generation.

Holtec expects to work with Comprehensive Decommissioning International to perform the decontamination and decommissioning of the plant. CDI is a joint venture company of Holtec and SNC-Lavalin. CDI would bring the expertise of both companies together to ensure safe, rapid and economic nuclear plant decommissioning. With its experience and state-of-the-art technologies, CDI is said to be well equipped to decommission Oyster Creek within eight years, more than 50 years ahead of the industry-allowed 60-year timeline.

“As part of the sale agreement, CDI will offer employment to Oyster Creek decommissioning employees, effective upon the transaction closing,” according to the announcement.

Holtec would submit a new Oyster Creek decommissioning plan, which must be reviewed and approved by the NRC. The process provides opportunities for public review and comment on the plan during the NRC evaluation period.

Holtec recently submitted a license application for an autonomous consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) in New Mexico to accept spent nuclear fuel from all nuclear plants in the U.S., including from Oyster Creek. Once licensed, fuel could be sent to the New Mexico CISF based upon the established use of interim storage locations by the federal government which would allow Holtec to return the full site to unrestricted use once the fuel has been transported off-site.

The funds from the site’s decommissioning trust would be transferred to Holtec upon closing and would be used by Holtec to cover the cost of the decommissioning. The trust fund was established decades ago to pay for decommissioning, and no additional funds from utility customers would be required.

In February, Exelon Generation officials announced their intention to take Oyster Creek offline in the fall, more than 14 months earlier than anticipated when the company agreed to cease operations in 2019 instead of building cooling towers onsite. It was licensed to operate until 2029 under a license extension approval granted by the NRC in April 2009.

The power plant site is surrounded by arms of the Oyster Creek and Forked River. Its main source of cooling water comes from Barnegat Bay via an intake canal along the South Branch of the Forked River. Within the first two months of being offline, the water flow through the intake canal is expected to be reduced by 96 percent, Exelon Generation officials said at last month’s public hearing on decommissioning plans for the nuke plant.

With the possible sale of the plant, it is unclear whether Lacey Township will be the beneficiary of roughly a quarter, or 217 acres of land, intended as a donation by Exelon Generation. Just two weeks ago, the company announced plans for the land donation. In doing so, it also said it does not have plans for land use or redevelopment of the remainder of the site at this time.

— Gina G. Scala




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