LACEY TOWNSHIP — Oyster Creek Generating Station, the oldest nuclear plant in the United States, will shut down in October — more than a year ahead of schedule.
Its owner, Exelon Generation, said it was partly a financial decision, “as fuel and maintenance costs continue to rise amid historically low power prices.”
Every one of its 500 employees will be offered jobs in other parts of Exelon, and some will stay on to safely and securely decommission the facility after it is shut down, the company said.
New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said the almost 50-year-old plant should have closed long ago and questioned the timing of the announcement.
“It seems to be timed to help move the nuclear subsidy bill forward, to get money for Exelon’s other plants,” Tittel said.
The bill is up for a committee hearing Monday and would create a mechanism for ratepayers to subsidize three other nuclear plants in the state, located in Salem County. The nuclear plants’ owner Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) has said it is struggling to compete against cheap natural gas plants and will close without a subsidy.
Exelon owns 43 percent of PSEG’s Salem 1 and 2 nuclear plants.
The announcement followed months of speculation about early closing, after Gov. Chris Christie said the plant was running ahead in its shutdown schedule.
The company is required to close Oyster Creek by December 2019 as part of a 2010 agreement with the state. It was licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission through 2029.
Oyster Creek produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough to supply 600,000 typical homes, the company said.
It will continue operating at full power for a time, Oyster Creek spokesperson Suzanne D’Ambrosio said.
Janet Tauro, New Jersey Board Chair of Clean Water Action, said Exelon’s decommissioning fund was financed through a surcharge on ratepayers’ electric bills, and the money should be used for taking apart the plant “piece by radioactive piece.”
Tauro said the immediate public safety issue is a complete decommissioning of the plant that will safely store highly radioactive spent fuel rods.
D’Ambrosio said the decommissioning process will be overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Shortly after the final shutdown, all fuel will be moved from the reactor to the used fuel pool, placing the plant into a status called “permanent defueling,” D’Ambrosio said.
Oyster Creek will have about 753 metric tons of spent fuel — or 1,594 fuel assemblies — onsite at the end of 2018, she said.
It will be stored in “robust metal canisters that are housed in a massive concrete structure,” D’Ambrosio said, highly secured and impervious to weather and risk of attack.
The canisters emit very low, if any, measurable levels of radiation and present no danger to the public, she said. The casks will remain on site until the DOE and Congress identify a long-term storage repository, “a promise they made to the American people decades ago,” said D’Ambrosio.
Details of exactly when various parts of the decommissioning will happen have yet to be worked out, she said. But the plant is likely to need several hundred workers at the start of the process.
Tittel called the plant, which came online Dec. 1, 1969, a “disaster waiting to happen,” and said the closing is a good thing.
“It’s the largest source of thermal pollution in Barnegat Bay, so its closing early will help the bay restore itself,” said Tittel.
As currently structured, the nuclear subsidy bill would provide about $300 million per year to nuclear plants that can prove they will shut down without financial help, according to the director for the state Division of Rate Counsel, Stephanie Brand, who opposed the legislation.
It would raise the average residential bill by $31 to $41 per year, according to different estimates.