In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a special advisory panel is convening a public hearing on the safety of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, the nation’s oldest-running commercial nuclear generating station.
The meeting, to be held today in Toms River, is the first public hearing of the Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel, a group set up by the Christie administration after it reached agreement with Exelon, the owner of the plant, to close it down in 2019.
The hearing was initially scheduled for November, but was rescheduled after Sandy struck and devastated the Jersey Shore. The superstorm also caused an alert to be issued at Oyster Creek, which, at the time, had been shut down for a refueling outage. Floodwater came within four inches of backup pumps used to prevent a meltdown of the station.
Those events have led some environmental groups to call for a renewed look at safety issues surrounding the plant.
“This panel should be meeting to figure out ways to close this plant as Hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call on just how vulnerable this plant is,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. “With this plant’s age, the storm surges and one problem after another, if they were really a safety panel they would be figuring out ways to shut this plant down.’’
The Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel was created to assist the state Department of Environmental Protection with the evaluation of the continued safe operation, decommissioning planning, and cessation of operations at the nuclear plant in the Forked River section of Lacey Township.
The panel, which consists of DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Edward Dickson and independent consultant Adam Cohen, is seeking public comments relating to the continued safe operation and closure of Oyster Creek by the end of 2019.
Exelon did not return a call for comment on the hearing. During the hurricane, Exelon issued a statement that said there was no danger to equipment or threat to public health or safety.
Other groups, which initially supported the Christie administration’s decision to close down the plant in 2019, expressed concerns about the plan.
“Sandy exposed significant deficiencies around Oyster Creek,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “Monday’s hearing provides another opportunity for these issues to be heard,’’ he said.
Tittel agreed. “We believe that this plant should be closed,’’ he said. “It is the oldest plant in the nation and has serious problems from tritium leaks to corrosion of the drywall liner. This is the wrong plant in the wrong place and needs to be closed.’’
Even though Exelon won a 20-year renewal of its license in 2009 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the plant’s future has been uncertain for several years. Oyster Creek lacks cooling towers to reduce the temperature of the water discharged by the plant, which has led to massive killings of fisheries.
The hearing will take place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Ocean County Administration Building at 101 Hooper Avenue, Room 119, in Toms River.