Oldest US Nuke Plant Going the Way of the Dinosaurs

by on March 12, 2018 · 2 comments

in Energy

Nuclear Shutdown News for February 2018

By Michael Steinberg / Black Rain Press

New Jersey Oyster Creek Nuke “To Shut Down for Good”

On February 2, 2018 the Asbury Park Press, Bruce Springsteen’s hometown newspaper, reported that the New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear power plant is “to shut down for good in October more than a year ahead of schedule-in a surprise announcement by plant owner Exelon.”

The Park Press also reported the nuke plant is the “oldest in the US” and will be 49 years old when it it ceases operations.

Oyster Creek started up at the end of the year in 1969, as Richard Nixon was finishing his first year in office as an ill-fated president. Its history illustrates many of the follies and fallacies that are now plaguing this country through the decadent nuclear power industry not that many years after it was “Born in the USA”, as The Boss put it in his scathing critique of our corrupt society in general.

Oyster Creek is a boiling water reactor, the same model as the Fukushima plants that melted down in 2011, like Oyster Creek built by General Electric from my former home state of Connecticut. Nestled in south Jersey among oil refineries and other chemical facilities forever belching toxic streams into surrounding airways and waterways, this nuke, like all others in the US, was designed to last only 40 years.

That it has been allowed to continue operating for almost 10 more years is another testament to utility companies blind pursuit of profit, aided and abetted  by authorities like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), at the expense of heightened risk to the public’s health and safety.

Oyster Creek’s original owner was the innocuous sounding GPU, a New Jersey company. In 1999, When the plant was already 30 years old, that outfit sold the plant to Amergen for $10 million, a pittance  compared to its original price of nearly $500 million in ’69. Later Amergen was taken over by Chicago-based Exelon, the US’s longest owner of nuclear plants.

By this time the nuclear industry stateside was already beginning to lag. Few new nukes were built after the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, and an attempt to build new nukes under Bush II failed after Wall Street refused to finance it.

So nuclear utilities like Exelon took to buying up aging nukes like Oyster Creek at firesale prices and milk them for all they were worth, which was already approaching less than zero.

Another approach was to assert that life began at 40 for nuclear reactors, one the NRC was only too happy to cooperate with, and began to handing out 20 year license extensions to utilities like bonuses to bank officers. Exelon got one for Oyster Creek in 2009, despite concerted opposition from local no nukes groups, meaning that the plant could, theoretically run until 2029.

But this was not to be.

More age related problems began showing up at Oyster Creek. Releases of tritium, radioactive hydrogen created to plant radioactive releases, were discovered in 2009, and have continued to migrate away from the plant into the environment, a common characteristic at older nukes.

Then in 2012 Superstorm Sandy storm surge and hurricane winds caused severe flooding inside Oyster Creek and offsite electricity loss threatened backup safety systems.

But even before that, in 2011, Exelon decided to close the plant in 2019, 10 years earlier than the license extortion permitted.

And why the sudden change now?

Nuclear power increasingly isn’t the money maker it once was. Twin demon frack gas is cheaper. while renewables wind and solar are taking stage center too.  Nor does Exelon want to put up the money to maintain a nearly 50 year old nuclear plant.

And so, as next Halloween approaches, it will let Oyster Creek go.

In his 1996 book The Enemy Within:The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors, author Jay Gould and associates from the Radiation and Public Health Project have this to say about the health effects of Oyster Creek and two other adjacent nuke plants, Salem and Hope Creek (radiation.org):

“The 9 counties closest to these reactors registered a combined age-adjusted breast cancer mortality increase since 1950-54 of 9 percent, which is significantly greater than the national increase of 1 percent. Possibly because the counties within 100 miles include some of the nation’s highest concentrations of chemical wastes, their combined rate of 28.8 deaths per  100,000 appears to be, along with that of New Jersey,among the highest in the nation.”

Of course over two decades have passed since this book appeared, during which time Oyster Creek was allowed to keep running and releasing radiation into the environment, and undoubtedly causing more negative health effects to people.

Sources: Asbury Park Press, app.com; Wikipedia, wikipedia.org; The Enemy Within, Jay Gould et all, 1996; Radiation and Public Health Project, radiation.org.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob March 13, 2018 at 6:12 pm

This article is inaccurate at best and could be considered an outright lie at worst. As a resident of Forked River, I can attest that the loss of Oyster Creek will be a heartfelt loss to the community. The plant has been operated safely and reliably for years. It donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local community and provides hundreds of volunteers to multiple charities. The plant could easily run to 2029, as it was licensed by the federal government. The agreed shutdown in 2019 was due to the thermal stress on the bay and canal, not due to the plant condition. Lastly, the early shutdown in 2018 versus 2019 is solely due to the economics of running a half fuel cycle (the plant refuels every 2 years and 2018 is a refuel year). I find it very insulting that you would post such an article with such limited research. I hope no one is mislead by this article.


Toolpusher March 15, 2018 at 2:10 am

There are really only three energy sources to generate electricity: fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), nuclear (fissile uranium), and so-called renewables (hydro, solar, and wind). For over a century fossil fuels have been the primary source with coal being by far the most heavily used. Coal of course is arguably the most environmentally destructive and because of better prices natural gas is starting the surpass coal at least in the US. Of course use of any hydro-carbon based fuel pollutes especially carbon dioxide, but, other pollutants too. Hydro-electric has also been used almost as long as coal and is certainly cleaner and therefore more environmentally friendly, but, still has an impact on the environment, requires a significant investment, and there are only so many rivers to dam and can be limited by drought or any other problem that lowers water levels. Other so-called renewable, of which are primarily solar and wind, are much less reliable: wind generation only works when it is windy and solar of course when the sun is shinning. Therefore siting is important and is why wind is often located offshore where wind is much more reliable. Solar works best where solar intensity is high and cloud cover minimal throughout the year, i.e. deserts like in the south-west US. Therefore limiting renewables; and ever where economical are still not reliable. Because of the unreliability, renewables cannot, at present, be used to supply base-load (i.e. the typical minimum load experienced on a grid over a period of time); renewable can contribute to peak load demands, but, cannot provide 100%, again because of the unreliability. Batteries can help mitigate the unreliability by storing power when supplied power in too much based on the demand and release when demand exceeds available power generation (i.e. at night when solar doesn’t work), but, when you have a prolonged period of cloudy conditions or calm days the batteries will be expended and no power from renewable will be available. There are some creative ideas for batteries including a hydro-battery that pumps water to a reservoirs using power when there is an abundance and release the water through a turbine to supply power when the other source of power is not available. However, this can be expensive and requires a suitable location to store water, but, if combined with existing water reservoirs to supply drinking water or created with this dual use, may make such a system economical especially in areas with water supply problems (like California). Nevertheless, solar and wind even with batteries can not completely provide enough reliable power for all peak load demands (at least not in the near future), nevertheless base-load demands. Therefore, we still need to generate power by either fossil fuels or nuclear; and don’t get me wrong I think renewable should absolutely be part of our electrical system, the lower environmental impact is desirable but also having redundancy and diversity is also important. But, for the near future we are stuck with using the other two sources of energy. Gas is better than coal but does require fracking to make economical compared to coal; but, because of its relative low cost (at least in the US) provides some exciting prospects. For example, making additive manufacturing -so called 3-D printing- possible (3D printing has a way to go and consumes a lot of electricity); which could shift manufacturing back to the US or at least North America in a big way among other consequences (collapsing supply chains, disrupting existing manufacturing center like China, jobs). But, fracking has environmental issues (much of the concern is over-blown though) and burning natural gas still produces carbon dioxide though a lot less other pollutants. So, what are we left with: nuclear. Nuclear produces very little actual pollution if standards and regulations are followed; which they generally are in the US thus making nuclear very expensive to operate one of its drawbacks. The environmental impact specific to nuclear is uranium mining and processing and biggest of all disposal (although there are recycling techniques common in Europe that lessens the impact in a big way). There are thermal impacts to waterways as well, but, the latest generation of reactor plants could eliminate this. The carbon impact is minimal. The history of nuclear safety is actually very stellar and the big incidents that come to everyone’s mind are really a result of human error combined with some poor designs and a natural disaster (i.e. Fukushima which the radioactive impact has been relatively minor- time will tell the full picture, but, so far not really significant). However, the newest plant designs (generation IV) are designed to be inherently safe, more efficient use of fuel, and faster half life of the fuel mitigating disposal problems. So, if you want to lower the carbon foot print of power generation (and assuming you want 24/7 reliable electrical power) the only alternative is: yes, increase renewable but for the near to medium term use nuclear fission reactors (of course IF nuclear fusion reactors or reliable renewable ever become economical on a large scale this could almost solve our Faustian bargain for electrical power at least in some parts of the world). Good luck and stay safe.


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