Task Force to Assess All Aspects of NJ’s Nuclear Facilities

Tom Johnson | March 28, 2011 | Energy & Environment
State Department of Environmental Protections seeks to discover early lessons from Japanese nuclear disaster

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is planning to look into Oyster Creek’s operations as well as those of three other nuclear generating stations in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

The state agency Friday announced the creation of a task force that will conduct a thorough assessment of operations and emergency preparedness plans for the state’s four nuclear generating facilities. The review will determine whether any early lessons from the ongoing nuclear emergency in Japan could enhance New Jersey’s current nuclear response protocols.

The review follows up on a court directive asking the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to assess whether the still unknown dimensions of a near meltdown in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami should force the federal agency to reconsider its relicensing of the Oyster Creek unit in Lacey Township, a facility that shares a similar design with the Fukishima Daiichi unit.

New Jersey has four nuclear reactors: Oyster Creek, Hope Creek in Lower Alloways Creek Township and Salem Units One and Two, also in Lower Alloways Creek Township.

Emergency Response Measures

The state task force will begin its analysis of New Jersey’s nuclear facilities next week as it prepares to get a first-hand briefing on operations at each plant and to discuss current emergency response measures. Exelon Corp. and PSEG, which own and operate the reactors, have pledged to participate in those reviews. Potential impacts from reactors in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York also will be examined.

“We want to ensure all proper safety protocols and preventative measures are in place to protect the residents of New Jersey from ever having to experience a nuclear emergency,” said Governor Chris Christie. “There may be lessons to be learned from what is happening in Japan that could make our preparedness even better and make the state’s residents more secure. We have an obligation to explore those facts and will make necessary adjustments to our safety plans as appropriate.”

The task force will explore emergency response protocols, technical reviews of plant operations, the chain of command and control at each nuclear facility, evacuation plans and emergency communications to the public.

In announcing the review, state officials sought to stress the differences between New Jersey’s and Japan’s nuclear facilities, including the assertion that there is virtually no possibility of a tsunami striking New Jersey. They also stated that it is extremely unlikely that a quake on the scale of the one that rocked Japan could occur here because of differing geological structures.

In addition, the state argued the nuclear design in Japan is ”similar” but not the same as two of those located in New Jersey. Backup generators and fuel supplies at New Jersey’s reactors, required in power outages, are far better protected than at facilities now in jeopardy in Japan.

Written Report Expected

Led by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, the task force includes State Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Charles B. McKenna, State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes and State Board of Public Utilities (BPU) President Lee Solomon. A written report will be submitted to the governor once the review is completed.

“We already have an excellent response system in place, one that is continuously updated as we gather new science and facts,” Martin said. “We also have excellent cooperation from the owners of nuclear facilities in our State. But you can never be too prepared. If there are lessons for New Jersey from what is happening in Japan, we should draw from that information.”

The NRC requires the state’s nuclear plants meet federal specifications to withstand natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. The arguments made by the state echo those made by Exelon on its website. The company claimed that its Oyster Creek plant is more than five miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and that tsunamis are not typical of the East Coast.

The company and state also claimed that all of its nuclear plants are designed to withstand substantial earthquakes, even though none are located in earthquake zones.