New Jersey Residents Regret Closing of Nuclear Power Plant

Published August 1, 2011

New Jersey residents near the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station are unhappy with plans to close the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant in 2019, some 10 years earlier than planned.
The plant is located in the Forked River section of Lacey Township in Ocean County, New Jersey, a small town south of the Jersey Shore. The plant is a major employer in the town and generates substantial revenue for the region.

The Oyster Creek plant is currently owned and operated by Exelon Corporation and provides 6 percent of the state’s power, enough electricity to power 600,000 U.S. homes. It gets its cooling water from Barnegat Bay and empties it into the Atlantic Ocean. The plant first came online December 1, 1969 and is licensed to operate until April 9, 2029. It will be retired at the end of 2019 in lieu of building costly cooling towers newly mandated by the state.

“This is the oldest nuclear plant in the country,” said Chris Kniesler, executive director of Solutions for New Jersey. “Exelon bought it recently, and the state required them to build cooling towers, which some estimate will cost $800 million. Exelon doesn’t want to sink any more money into the facility than they have to, because in their opinion it would cost more money than it’s worth. In return for closing early, they don’t have to build the towers.”

No Power Replacement Yet
Because the closing of the plant is so far in the future, the state will be able to plan for it, though nobody knows how the region will replace Oyster Creek’s power production, says Paul V. Tyahla, executive director of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey. Without replacement power ready to fill the void, the closing of the Oyster Creek plant could leave New Jersey electricity consumers in a bind.

“Nuclear power is a key source of energy for New Jersey,” Tyahla said. “Currently there are four nuclear reactors in the state, including Oyster Creek, which provides 6 percent of New Jersey’s energy. Without replacing the reactor with another nuclear power plant, it’s going to be very difficult for the state to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals or to make up the lost energy output with renewable energy.”

Emissions Reductions at Risk
“Gov. Corzine’s [the previous governor of New Jersey] 10-point environmental plan to reduce greenhouse gases was based upon Oyster Creek operating for another 20 years instead of 10,” Tyahla notes. “He called for a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020 and a 50 percent reduction by 2080. It’s going to be very hard for the state to meet these goals unless a new nuclear reactor is built or the economic slump lasts until then. It is possible that another reactor could be opened by then, and I understand that another operator has already applied, but so far there are no plans approved.”

Locals Support the Plant
When Exelon was applying for its permit, there was broad support for the plant from the town, including labor unions and fishermen, said Tyahla. Unfortunately, the new cooling towers made it economically unfeasible for the plant to continue.

“Oyster Creek has run safely and efficiently and with stewardship for the environment during the life of the facility,” said Suzanne D’Ambrosio, Oyster Creek site communicator for Exelon.

“The fishing community has been very supportive of Oyster Creek. They make their living on the Bay, so if anyone would protest the plant, you’d think it would be them. However, that was not the case—they have come out in great numbers to support the plant,” D’Ambrosio observed.

“We have been operating for 40 years. Critics say that is a long time, that the plant is 40 years old. I disagree; I think the plant is 40 years young. For example, when you see a classic car and open up the hood and see the engine polished all shiny and new, it’s the same with this plant. When you consider the amount of time, money, and resources that have been put into this, we’re like a classic car that’s been well-maintained and cared for,” said D’Ambrosio.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Texas.