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What Does Appellate Decision Mean For Oyster Creek’s Future?

Judges on an appeals panel hold the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s feet to the fire about long-term storage of used nuclear fuel. Environmental advocates see immediate repercussions at the Oyster Creek generating station in Lacey Township, scheduled to close in seven years, for all operators of GE Mark One reactors, and for America’s energy policy overall.

Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant (photo courtesy Exelon Corp)

The case, brought by New Jersey and three other states, concerns overhead temporary storage pools at Oyster Creek and similar facilities. The NRC contends that the storage system is safe for at least 60 years beyond decommissioning. Neil Sheehan at the agency says that some research indicates safe temporary storage for as long as a century.

But the judges found no substantiation for the estimates. Their ruling would force operators to create safe, permanent underground storage casks and require the NRC to submit detailed environmental site evaluations or reasons why such assessments wouldn’t be necessary in each case.

“It’s saying that you can’t leave, basically, atomic bombs sitting in overhead fuel pools for the duration of 60 years,” says Janet Tauro, chair of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. But moreover, she continues, there’s no way to gauge the safety of containers holding material that will remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

“In 50 years, we’ll have to revisit this issue,” she says, “because the casks are only good for 50 years.”

NRC lawyers will decide whether to take the case to a higher court or enter compliance once they’ve fully reviewed the decision.

Anti-nuclear activists are briefly celebrating before beginning a press for upgraded discharge vents for boiling-water reactors. Faulty vents, they say, kept gases contained in the Fukushima Daichi reactors that triggered explosions.

Tauro submits that the ruling places a new question mark on the future of  nuclear energy in America and underscores the value of renewable sources, especially solar power.

Janet Tauro (c), NJ Environmental Federation, at NRC June 6 Public Meeting in Toms River (Townsquare Media)

“In 10 years in New Jersey, we have more solar output than we do from Oyster Creek,” she says. “Oyster Creek has 650 megawatts. Solar has now reached 695 megawatts.”

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