NRC Takes Step Toward Allowing Fourth Nuclear Plant in Salem County

Tom Johnson | November 19, 2015 | Energy & Environment
In its Environmental Impact Statement, federal agency finds no substantive barriers to adding nuclear facility to the three already in place

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The possibility that a fourth nuclear power plant could be built in Salem County moved a step closer to reality with the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement on a potential site adjacent to the three units now at the location.

The EIS released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found no major barriers to building another generating unit in Lower Alloways Township by PSEG Power, a subsidiary of Newark-based Public Service Enterprise Group. The NRC review team recommended that an early site permit be issued, which would open the way for a future unit.

Before any plant becomes reality, however, a wide range of permits and licenses would have to be approved by the local, state, and federal government. An even more insurmountable hurdle has to do with the economics of the nuclear industry: The cost of new plants is so prohibitive that few are being built.

“With low gas prices, it’s even less likely it will ever happen absent a transformative change in nuclear technology,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glenrock Associates in New York City. The company has not yet decided what nuclear technology it would use, if the plant is built.

PSEG said it has no plans to aggressively pursue the project. “We don’t have any plans right now with the economics (being what they are),’’ said Joseph Delmar, a spokesman for PSEG Nuclear, which operates the three existing plants — Salem I and II and Hope Creek. “It doesn’t make sense.”

When PSEG first filed its application for an early-site permit back in 2010, the cost of building a new unit at the location was projected to run to $15 billion.

The next step in the regulatory process is for the NRC to hold a hearing on an early-site assessment permit; a decision b is expected in mid-2016. If approved by the agency, the permit would be good for 20 years, according to Delmar.

There are currently four operating nuclear plants in New Jersey, including the Oyster Creek unit operated by Exelon, which is scheduled to shut down in 2019. Nuclear power accounts for about half the electricity used by residents and businesses in the state.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, criticized the NRC review because he said it failed to consider climate change, flooding, or storm surges as part of the EIS. With extreme weather becoming more frequent, it would make the unit more susceptible to flooding, he said.