How Safe Is Oldest US Nuclear
Reactor - 20 More Years?
"Exelon shouldn't even be thinking about a license -
they should be shutting this clunker down now!"

From Jersey Shore Nuclear

Future Of Oyster Creek Powers Local Debate
Nuclear License Deadline Nears
By Nicholas Clunn
Manahawkin Bureau
Asbury Park Press
LACEY -- With 2003 coming to a close, the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant is about enter a critical period in its 34-year history.
The company that runs the 650-megawatt reactor on a barren stretch of Route 9 has until April to decide whether it wants the plant to apply to continue generating power through 2029, another 20 years beyond when its current license expires, in 2009.
A decommissioned plant would mean that Ocean County would lose a major employer. Due to the specialized nature of their jobs, most of the plant's 440 workers, many of whom live in towns around the plant, would leave to seek employment at other reactors if their jobs here were eliminated.
Also at stake is money that makes up about a quarter of Lacey's budget, an annual $11.5 million state subsidy that the town gets because it has a power plant. Township officials fear state legislators could take this money away if the plant closes, a decision that, at worst, would increase the municipal portion of the tax rate by about 137 percent, according to township figures.
Others would see Oyster Creek's closure as a good thing. Currently, radioactive waste is stored at the site. But officials believe that in six years the waste will begin being transported from Lacey through Ocean County neighborhoods on its way to a dump that is expected to open in Nevada. Continued operation would mean more waste that would need to be disposed.
Opponents of extended generation also warn that the plant is a likely aerial target for terrorists. The economic fallout, they say, is a secondary concern to the radiological kind that could result from such an attack.
Opinions differ
"I understand the principle of how the crow flies, and I know how the effects of Chernobyl reached Poland," said Laura Cayford, who is concerned about the plant, even though she lives 30 miles away in Asbury Park.
Although closer to the plant, Anne Gudzak, a township resident and owner of a nursery school here, feels safe about its presence. She said she trusts officials who decide matters about the plant's safety and wouldn't mind if the plant's life were extended.
"I don't think we should be overly concerned," she said. "I wouldn't be living here for 35 years if I thought there would be any serious danger."
As of Friday, Oyster Creek's owner, AmerGen Energy, had given no indication publicly or to federal licensing officials about its plans.
Nonetheless, there is strong evidence to indicate that if AmerGen does apply for an extension, it will be successful.
The federal agency overseeing the country's 103 reactors, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has yet to deny a license renewal, said Neil Sheehan, an agency spokesman.
"Some NRC officials expect that all of the plants at one point or another will seek relicensing renewal," he said.
The agency had approved license renewals for 17 reactors on nine sites as of Friday. The agency is now considering 14 renewal applications and expects about 24 more within the next two years.
If AmerGen applies for an extension, the NRC would require it to closely evaluate how the plant's aging over the next 20 years would affect Oyster Creek and how it could manage those effects. AmerGen would also have to evaluate potential environmental impacts over an extended period of operation.
The price of applying
Applying for an extension is expensive. AmerGen spent a total of between $8 million and $10 million applying to extend the life of two reactors near Lancaster, Pa., Sheehan said.
The NRC would then review the application, verifying the company's evaluations through inspections and other means. The process usually takes about two years, with the public having several opportunities to comment along the way.
The Oyster Creek facility has had recent success with federally run safety drills and inspections.
Following safety drills at Oyster Creek in September, federal emergency management officials said workers at the plant and first responders in the towns around it are prepared to evacuate residents in case of a radiological emergency, based on their performance.
The agency's findings contin-ued the plant's "record of suc-cess," said agency Regional As-sistance Committee Chairman Robert F. Reynolds following the drills.
These drills, coupled with regu-lar maintenance, are per-formed, in part, to ensure that plants will operate safely through a 20-year license exten-sion.
Also, nuclear power has at least some friends in the feder-al government. The energy bill that was recently defeated in the U.S. Senate would have ap-propriated money for new plant construction and atomic energy research. Lawmakers cited other reasons, not the nu-clear power provisions, when voting against the bill, and Re-publican lawmakers are expec-ted to reintroduce it next year.
One measure that was part of that bill that could have had a direct effect on Oyster Creek was one that would have autho-rized funding over the next five fiscal years for maintaining, upgrading and modifying exist-ing plants. About $2.8 billion could have been authorized for this purpose and other nuclear energy research.
Meeting with success
Exelon, the parent company of Oyster Creek's owner, Amer-Gen, didn't need this financial incentive to pursue relicensure of six of its plants. The Chica-go-based company has so far submitted the second-highest number of relicensing applica-tions in the country.
Two Exelon plants on one Pennsylvania site have already had licenses renewed. The NRC in May extended operation at Peach Bottom 2 and 3 in Lan-caster.
It made financial sense to keep the plants open, said Exelon spokesman David Simon.
"The plants were operating well, and we wanted to contin-ue generating electricity," he said.
Opponents of nuclear power, however, argue that such pow-er plants should close because reactors are targets for terror-ists and producers of radioac-tive waste.
In the debate surrounding whether Oyster Creek should continue operating, lobby groups New Jersey Public In-terest and Research Group, or NJPIRG, and Jersey Shore N - uclear Watch have been the ones talking the most about these potential dangers.
Whether AmerGen applies for a license extension or decides to shut down the reactor, "we definitely have plans to scruti-nize every step of the process to make sure public safety will be taken into account," said NJPIRG energy advocate Emily Rusch.
Despite NJPIRG's concern, Jack Demarco, who has a clear view of Oyster Creek's build-ings from his bakery's parking lot on Route 9, isn't worried much about his safety. He trusts the people running the plant.
"It's the thing of the future, nu-clear power," he said. "There is nothing wrong with it."
Dire predictions
If plant opponents prevail, and Oyster Creek closes, a dramatic economic downturn is expected here and in towns around the plant, say economists and township officials.
The ripple-effect from lost jobs would have the most detrimen-tal effect, said Donald M. Scar-ry, an economist at New Jersey Economics in Mount Laurel. The salaries of people working at the plant would be with-drawn from the local economy, money that had been spent in businesses around the plant.
"It would affect at least the county and probably more than that. Just think of the number of butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers that would be af-fected," Scarry said.
When plants close, workers typically leave quickly to find positions at other nuclear sites, said Sheehan of the NRC.
"They have specific skills, and typically they will find jobs at other operating reactors," he said.
Some workers would stay on for the long-term. Security per-sonnel, for example, would be needed to guard the nuclear waste stored here. These work-ers would be joined temporari-ly by special crews brought in to close the plant, Sheehan said.
Effect on taxes
Township officials also are worried that, if Oyster Creek closes, state lawmakers would take away Lacey's special sub-sidy for having a power plant.
Although state law guarantees this subsidy for towns with plants, closed or open, town-ship officials fear lawmakers would change the law. In Lac-ey's case, such a move would cut $11.5 million from its annu-al budget. This year's budget is about $44 million, said Town-ship Tax Collector Joseph Re-gatts.
To compensate for such a loss, the township would consider raising taxes. If the total differ-ence was raised this way -- which would be a "remote pos-sibility" -- taxpayers would see a 26-cent jump in the municipal portion of their tax rate, Re-gatts said. For the owner of a home assessed at the township average -- $126,436 -- that would translate into an additional $328 a year in taxes.
Victor Szaranowski said his el-derly mother would have a dif-ficult time dealing with signifi-cantly higher taxes. He's from Edison, but drives here often to look after her.
"She's 94 years old," he said. "She uses what Social Security money she can get."
There's little worry about los-ing Oyster Creek as a ratable. If the reactor is turned off, AmerGen would still have to keep the facility open since it will contain spent fuel, Regatts said. Oyster Creek paid the town $1.6 million in property taxes this year, according to township figures.
Whether the plant closes in five years or stays open for another 25, Georgia Sabarese, a long-time resident here, said her town and the people here will survive.
She sees the commercial devel-opment here -- the planned Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores -- as Lacey's saving grace if the reactor were to go cold.
"We wouldn't be in trouble, not with the influx we have right now," she said. "Look at all the big stores coming in."
Nicholas Clunn: (609) 978-4597 or,21625,873794,00.html



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