PSEG Nuclear has cleared another hurdle in its efforts to renew the operating licenses of its three nuclear plants in South Jersey.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday said it has issued draft Environmental Impact Statements for the license renewal of the Hope Creek and Salem I and II nuclear units. It also said the option of a 20-license renewal should be left open to energy-planning decision-makers. New Jersey relies on nuclear to a much larger extent than other states, so the renewal decision could greatly affect the reliability of the grid.
In reviewing the renewal applications, the NRC staff found most of the environmental impacts are either small or moderate, according to Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal agency.
“At this point, they have not found any show-stoppers,” Sheehan said. The agency plans to hold public hearings on November 17 at the Salem County Emergency Services Building in Woodstown at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Unlike the license renewal for the fourth nuclear plant operating in New Jersey, Oyster Creek, the three units in Lower Alloways Creek has not generated much opposition. The three plants, which produce enough electricity to power about 3 million homes each day, employ 1,500 workers. That makes them the largest employer in Salem County.
The first unit at Salem began operating in 1977 and is currently licensed until 2016. The second unit came online in 1981 and is licensed until 2020. PSEG owns 57 percent of the plants, the remainder is owned by Exelon. Hope Creek went operational in 1986 and is licensed until 2026.
Beyond the three units it already has in place, PSEG is considering building a fourth unit on the 740 acres where the plants are located. In May, it filed an early site permit application with the NRC, the first step in what would likely be a decade-long effort to have a new nuclear station operating at the site.
That move was welcome by business groups who have long complained that no new baseload generating stations—plants which run basically 24 hours per day, seven days a week -- have been built since the state deregulated the energy industry a decade ago.
A big factor in the decision to build a fourth unit will revolve around its cost, which could run as high as $10 billion, and what type of loan guarantees and other assurances the utility can obtain to ensure the facility is profitable.
The NRC expects to issue a final environmental impact statement next March and conclude its overall review by next June, tentatively, according to Sheehan.
Joe Delmar, a spokesman for PSEG Nuclear, said the draft environmental impact statement is part of an ongoing regulatory review. “We continue to have ongoing discussions and look forward to the November 17 meeting to solicit further public input,” Delmar said.
Environmentalists were not surprised the agency gave the go-ahead to the company.
“When it comes to regulating the nuclear industry, the NRC is hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation.
There are 109 nuclear generating stations operating in the U.S. Of them, 59 are operating under renewed licenses. The agency has never rejected a license renewal for a nuclear plant, athough some have been withdrawn, Sheehan said.