The Oyster Creek nuclear plant yesterday won a court case involving a bid by opponents to overturn its licensing permits because a federal regulatory agency ignored key safety issues in its review.
The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeal issued a ruling upholding a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reject various challenges to the license renewal of the nation’s oldest nuclear generating station, which is owned by Exelon.
In the decision, the court concluded "that the NRC did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the citizens' various challenges to Exelon's license renewal application for Oyster Creek." The challenge was brought by various groups, including the New Jersey Environmental Federation, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club and Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy.
The ruling marks a small positive development for the nuclear sector, which has been under tremendous scrutiny since a tsunami and earthquake in Japan caused one of the world’s most significant disasters involving nuclear power. Since then, energy analysts have questioned how big a role nuclear power will play in the U.S.'s future.
In arriving at its conclusion the court said the federal regulatory agency gave due consideration to the plaintiffs concerns, which included issues with leaks of radioactive tritium and a corroding containment wall. The court, however, said NRC’s review of Exelon's application was "well-reasoned, and we will not second-guess technical decisions within the realm of its unique expertise."
The decision was sharply criticized by plant opponents, who argued that with the events unfolding in Japan, they would have hoped the courts would have taken a more skeptical look at NRC’s licensing process.
The court, the NRC, and Congress are doing exactly what was done in Japan, ignoring safety issues," said Janet Tauro, chair of the NJ Environmental Federation, one of the citizens groups involved in the litigation. "We are running risks too similar to those at Fukushima, and who wants to take the chance that our luck is going to hold out."
The design of Oyster Creek is the same as the Fukushima Unit 1, which experienced a meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami shut down its electricity and backup diesel generators failed after being flooded.
In a decision reached with the Christie administration last year, Exelon agreed to close the plant within nine years, a deal that eliminated the possibility of the company having to install cooling towers at the facility to reduce environmental harm to Barnegat Bay.