Feds allow emergency planning reduction in area near Oyster Creek nuclear plant

An emergency evacuation pamphlet shows the 10-mile radius around Oyster Creek Generating Station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

An emergency evacuation pamphlet shows the 10-mile radius around Oyster Creek Generating Station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted the operator of Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey permission to amend the plant’s emergency plan, officials say.

Exelon Generation had requested a reduction in emergency planning requirements after it permanently defueled the Oyster Creek reactor, according Neil Sheehan, a public affairs officer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The decision will allow the operator to discontinue the Emergency Planning Zone within a 10-mile radius of the Lacey Township plant and eliminate the use of emergency sirens.

But the changes cannot be implemented until 12 months after the plant’s closure, allowing the spent fuel to cool sufficiently to reduce the risk of a fire and radioactivity spread, Sheehan said.

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Oyster Creek closed on Sept. 17. The plant must continue to maintain an on-site emergency plan and emergency response capabilities. In the event of an emergency, the operator must notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and state authorities.

The plant went online in December 1969, the same day as the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station near Oswego, New York. But Oyster Creek’s original license was granted first.

Exelon Generation agreed to shut down the plant in return for not being required to build costly cooling towers requested by the state Department of Environmental Protection that would minimize the impact on fish and other marine life in the creek.

The plant has dealt with corrosion and leaks during its time in service, but the owner says the facility has always been safe.

In July, Exelon Generation announced that Holtec International had agreed to purchase the property. The agreement remains under review by the federal government. Holtec has requested a decision by May 1, 2019.

The company will contract with Camden, New Jersey-based Comprehensive Decommissioning International to decommission the plant within eight years, more than 50 years ahead of the industry-allowed 60-year timeline.

Holtec, formed in New Jersey and now has its headquarters in Jupiter, Florida, has submitted a license application for a facility in New Mexico to accept spent nuclear fuel from all plants in the United States, including Oyster Creek. The company says transporting all fuel to that facility would allow the company to return the site to unrestricted use.

Exelon Generation had previously announced that the decommission plan would cost $1.4 billion.

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