Last summer, Exelon Generation surprised Lacey Township residents with an announcement of a plan to decommission the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in perhaps half the time expected.
That might allow redevelopment of the 779-acre property in the 2030s instead of the 2080s, a big benefit. The shorter decommissioning would be approved and overseen by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ensuring its safety and compliance with federal standards.
Exelon would sell the nation’s oldest nuclear plant to Holtec International, a global supplier of equipment and systems for the energy industry, which would decommission Oyster Creek using its nearly $1 billion trust fund intended for that. In April, Holtec reached a similar deal with Entergy Corp. to acquire and decommission the three reactors at New York’s Indian Point generating station.
Holtec has been in the news two other times the past month for things that might raise doubts about its status in New Jersey or the ability of Ocean County residents to get information and have input in the decommissioning process. The details suggest such doubts aren’t justified.
First the NRC denied requests for a hearing by watchdog and interest groups challenging a plan by Holtec to build a temporary storage facility in New Mexico for spent fuel from U.S. nuclear reactors, including Oyster Creek. The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board decided none of the petitioners had a right to such a hearing.
This should have no bearing at all on public involvement with the Oyster Creek plan and process.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says “the public has several opportunities to participate in the decommissioning process. A public meeting is held in the vicinity of the facility after submittal of a post-shutdown decommissioning activities report to the NRC. Another public meeting is held when NRC receives the license termination plan. An opportunity for a public hearing is provided prior to issuance of a license amendment approving the plan or any other license amendment request.” That sounds adequate for keeping the public informed and making the NRC aware of people’s concerns.
A couple of weeks later, Holtec was caught up in Gov. Phil Murphy’s attack on Democratic rivals Senate President Steve Sweeney and South Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross III. That used a task force on state tax incentives to scrutinize breaks for Camden area businesses that benefited Norcross, his relatives and allies. Norcross is an unpaid member of Holtec’s board, and the company was awarded a potential $260 million in tax breaks to build a new plant and bring jobs to Camden.
Scrutiny of Holtec’s paperwork submitted as part of its application to the state Economic Development Authority for the tax breaks found that on a checklist of possible past legal issues for the company, its CEO had checked “no” on all the questions, including whether it had ever been prohibited from working with a federal agency.
But in 2010, the federal Tennessee Valley Authority suspended Holtec for 60 days while it investigated a payment from a Holtec contractor that a TVA official didn’t disclose. The TVA fined Holtec $2 million, required it to create a corporate governance office and agree to independent monitoring, and resumed business with Holtec. Today it does TVA work under a $300 million contract.
Holtec told the EDA the mistake on the checklist was inadvertent and asked that the answer be corrected on the application. Absent evidence that a wrong answer was willfully provided to try to hide what was part of the TVA public record, no significant punishment of Holtec seems merited, let alone anything that would hurt Camden’s revival or the plan to more quickly decommission Oyster Creek.
It’s still early in the process, of course, and the Exelon-Holtec agreement hasn’t been approved by the NRC. But nothing yet suggests the general decommissioning plan and the public’s involvement in it won’t proceed as expected.