2007-06-28 / Front Page

Oyster Creek's time is up, residents tell board

Many worried about accidents, terror attacks on aging nuclear plant

Staff Writer

TOMS RIVER - Should the nearly 40-year-old Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township be allowed to operate for another 20 years?


That was the overwhelming response of many of the several hundred Ocean County residents who attended either the afternoon or night session of the May 31 Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) hearing in the county administration building.

Almost to a person, they had the same message. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station must close when its license expires in April 2009.

"You gentlemen have in your hands the ability to shape our future," Barnegat resident Jane DeMarzo told the board. "There will be no one to say you are sorry to after a disaster. Just remember, reasonable doubt."

"We will be the ones to suffer the consequences of a license renewal," said Joyce Kushwara, who lives within the 10-mile radius of the plant on Route 9 south in Lacey Township. "It's an accident waiting to happen. We will be the victims. We will shut this plant down, sooner or later."

Almost all said they were worried about the spent fuel rods stored in the reactor building and in dry casks near Route 9, the plant's vulnerability to terrorist attacks, the integrity of the plant's dry well, the impossibility of evacuation in the event of an accident or attack and operator error.

The hearing was limited in that no one from a coalition of groups that have contested the plant's relicensing in court were allowed to speak.

Several audience members wore black gags to protest their inability to speak. They held up placards that read "Oyster Creek is a sitting duck" and "There is no way out."

Board Administrative Judge E. Roy Hawkens asked the audience to treat each speaker with respect and to refrain from making any noise or comments.

"I assure you, we will be listening with great attention to what you have to say," Hawkens told the more than 100 people in the afternoon hearing.

Ocean County Planner David J. McKeon read a prepared statement on behalf of the county Board of Freeholders.

The freeholders have no official position on whether the plant should be relicensed, he said.

"We rely on the NRC [federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission] as the safety regulatory agency," McKeon said.

The two major concerns expressed to the board are the integrity of the drywell liner and leaks association with the dry-well liner, the letter said.

The NRC has not addressed the concerns to date, according to the letter.

"AmerGen's proposed periodic testing program cannot be considered appropriate if uncertainty remains regarding the current thickness and safety of the dry-well liner," McKeon read. The NRC must determine that the plant is not only safe to operate now but also 20 years into the future."

The freeholder board "appreciates" Oyster Creek's contributions to the community, the letter states.

"However, questions remain as to the ability of this facility to continue safe operations beyond the current licensing facility," McKeon said.

Daniel Lundy, a Long Beach Island resident, told the board he was speaking not only for himself, but for many of his neighbors.

Long Beach Island residents would be "trapped" in the event of an accident or terrorist attack, he told the board.

"This is the wrong plant in the wrong place at the wrong time," Lundy said. "Gentlemen, you are avoiding the elephant in the kitchen."

Maryanne Clemente, Barnegat, who lives 3.5 miles from Oyster Creek, said Ocean County's population has tripled since the plant went on line in 1969.

"In the case of an accident, evacuation is nearly impossible," she said. "Oyster Creek's time is up. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is quickly approaching the end of its lifetime. The risks of accidents increase with the aging of a plant. Oyster Creek is currently in its wear-out phase.

Oyster Creek was built in 1969, when Ocean County was considerably more rural, Clemente said.

"No one can claim that Oyster Creek is out of the way anymore," she said. "Evacuation is nearly impossible. A radiation plume won't stop at the 10-mile boundary. I can't tell you how important it is to us that this plant not be relicensed."

Blanche Krubner, of Jackson, the president of the Ocean County League of Women Voters, told the board the evacuation plan in the event of an accident or terrorist attack is "unworkable."

"There is no way 200,000 or more individuals could be taken to safety," Krubner said, adding that Oyster Creek provides only 1.7 percent of the state's energy grid. "The extremely small amount would not be missed if the plant were closed."

Costanzo said she was worried about the spent fuel stored in dry casks "400 feet" off Route 9. Relicensing the plant will result in many more spent fuel rods stored in Ocean County.

"Oyster Creek will need more and more," she said. "We will have a cemetery

of deadly coffins along Route 9."

Paula Gotsch, of Brick Township, said NRC officials were unable to provide figures on the integrity of the thickness of the plant's dry well at a May 23 NRC meeting in Toms River for the plant's annual safety assessment.

"No one can give the figures," she said. "They don't have the figures. I thought people knew what they were talking about. We have been accused of being emotional and hysterical. We just want the facts."

There are too many experts who don't agree, Gotsch told the board.

"That doesn't mean problem solved," she said. "We have no reason to believe that Oyster Creek is the good ship Lollipop. It's scary. That's all I'm saying."

Charles Hassler, business administrator for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 94, was one of five speakers out of both sessions who supported the plant's relicensing.

"It is an informed, rational support," he said. "Oyster Creek has operated at 95 to 98 percent capacity and has done so admirably. If the plant falls below acceptable measures, I and my union will be the first to speak out."

Lacey Township Committeeman David Most, an Oyster Creek employee, said the Township Committee supports the plant's relicensing.

"Lacey Township has full confidence in the NRC's ability and will support the licensing approval process," Most said. "Oyster Creek has been a good neighbor to Lacey Township in the past and we look forward to a continued partnership. We look forward to its continued operation."

Administrative Judge Dr. Paul B. Abramson said it was important that residents understood the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is not part of the NRC's staff.

"Our job is very narrow," he said, "to address the question of corrosion in the dry-well shell."

The purpose of the limited hearings was to allow citizens to make comments on the topic, he said.

"We do not make policy for the commission," Abramson said. "The commission will have access to a transcript of your comments."

The coalition organizations are the Nuclear Information and Resource Service; the Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch Inc.; Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety; the New Jersey Public Interest Group; the New Jersey Sierra Club, and the New Jersey Environmental Foundation.

The ASLB is still considering a contention raised by the coalition about monitoring the corrosion level in the plant's dry-well liner and former sandbed region.

If the ASLB rules favorably on the coalition's contention, that could lead to a full public hearing in September.

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