New Jersey will be relying on nuclear power to supply the bulk of its electricity for at least the next three decades.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday renewed the operating license for the Hope Creek nuclear unit in Salem County, the third renewal of a license at the complex of three nuclear generating stations in Lower Alloways Township in the past month.
The decision by the federal agency came as no surprise, since Hope Creek is the newest of the three units operating at the site, which is about 40 miles southwest of Philadelphia. The original operating license for Hope Creek, which has a generating capacity of approximately 1,216 megawatts, would have expired in 2026, but has been extended to 2046.
"The license renewal of Hope Creek, as well as Salem last month, ensures clean nuclear energy is available for New Jersey and the region for years to come," said Tom Joyce, president and chief nuclear officer of PSEG Nuclear, the operator of the plant.
Nuclear power provides more than half of the state’s electricity. Besides Hope Creek, there are the Salem I and Salem II facilities on the 740-acre site in South Jersey. PSEG Nuclear is also exploring the possibility of building an additional nuclear generating station on the site, filing an early site permit application last year. A decision on the permit is not expected until late 2013, and the company has not yet committed to build the unit.
There is one other nuclear unit in New Jersey, the Oyster Creek station in Lacey Township. That plant, however, is scheduled to shut down by the end of 2019 under an agreement reached by the Christie administration and Exelon, which operates the facility. Oyster Creek is the oldest operating commercial nuclear plant in the country. It won a renewal of its 20-year operating license from the NRC in 2009.
The federal agency said after careful review of Hope Creek's safety systems and specifications, it had concluded there were no safety concerns that would preclude license renewal. It noted that the applicant had effectively demonstrated the capability to manage the effects of plant aging.
Environmentalists, who want the state to lessen its reliance on nuclear power, were not surprised by the license renewal.
"It’s disappointing but not a surprise," said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. "We just keep getting these rubber stamp license renewals for the nuclear plants and we just keep stringing these old plants along."
Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, agreed. "This is the newest of the all the nuclear plants in New Jersey. It was kind of automatic," he said.
The state's new Energy Master Plan suggests nuclear power must continue to be a part of the state's energy mix going forward. Without it, the state will never achieve its goals of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the plan suggested, without endorsing any specific plan to build a new nuclear unit.