Concerned Citizens Want Answers on Oyster Creek, Following Sandy
The impact of Hurricane Sandy on Oyster Creek Generating Station garnered more attention at the Safety Advisory Panel meeting, which was to focus on the safe operation and closure of the nuclear power plant
Several people expressed disappointment Monday when representatives from the Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel did not answer questions, but rather listened to concerns and said they would report back in a paper to be issued later this year.
The meeting, which had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, was held in Toms River with the purpose of discussing plant-related matters. The focus of the meeting was supposed to be on the safe operation and closure of Oyster Creek Generating Station but the superstorm took the spotlight.
Panel members — DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Edward Dickson and independent consultant Adam Cohen — listened to several people, and said they would address the issues raised in a report to be issued this spring.
Before listening to the public, Martin told the approximately 75 people in attendance that "DEP was in constant contact with Exelon, before, during and after the storm, to ensure proper precautions were in place at the time." He continued, "Oyster Creek responded as designed and as expected."
Many in attendance expressed frustration that the panel did not present any post-Sandy data relating to the power plant.
Representatives from several environmental groups spoke during the meeting, and raised questions that centered on:
- Exelon's post-Sandy analysis of the cracks and pinhole leak in the reactor vessel. A refueling and maintenance outage revealed “indications” (precursors to cracks) in the reactor nozzle and a pinhole leak in the reactor vessel. Both were repaired prior to returning Oyster Creek to service.
- Exelon's flood management plan, in light of Sandy;
- Operations of the plant in the event of a flooded intake canal;
- The siren system — 33 of which were inoperable during Sandy, according to speakers at the panel meeting;
- Long-term plans for decommissioning.
Jeff Tittel, of the Sierra Club, addressed the panel with a ruler, and said: "I want to know, did the water come within four inches, six inches? How close did the water come to the backup pumps."
He urged the panel to educate the public about "what is the condition of the plant after this major event?"
Although the Safety Advisory Panel did not respond during the meeting, in an effort to provide some answers, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan has stated that, "Hurricane Sandy did not exceed Oyster Creek's maximum flood level due to probable maximum hurricane."
The plant grade is one foot above the probable maximum hurricane elevation, which is set at 22 feet. Therefore, flooding would not find its way into plant buildings, he said, although the circulating water intake structure would be under water.
"During a probable maximum hurricane flood, the circulating water and service water pumps will become inoperable and, thus, emergency plant procedures have been instituted which require the plant to be shut down when flood waters reach a pre-determined level, as to ensure the capability for safe shutdown under either normal or abnormal conditions," he said, according to plant procedures.
The highest water level at the intake structure during Hurricane Sandy was 7.4 feet above mean sea level, he said. Plant procedures call for the service water system to be removed from service if the water level reaches 8.5 feet even though the bottom of the service water motors would be affected by flooding at the nine to 10 foot range.
"If the service water pumps have to be taken out of service, plant operators have other means by which to provide cooling to the systems cooled by service water," he said.
One method is to utilize water from a tank on-site that holds more than 300,000 gallons of water. The plant can also tie into city water, he said.
The NRC is currently in the process of updating a guide called the "Design Basis Floods for Nuclear Power Plants," which was originally issued in 1973. The updated guide will address advances in flooding analysis in the 35 years since revision two was published, Sheehan said.
In the meantime, a report was released in November 2011 documenting present-day methodologies used by the NRC to review design basis flood estimates for new reactor applications, he said.
"This work, in conjunction with the NRC’s post-Fukushima reviews related to flood risks, makes clear the NRC takes seriously and is acting on ensuring that U.S. nuclear power plants are adequately protected from flooding," Sheehan said.
As for the siren system, Exelon will be installing battery backed-up sirens at Oyster Creek Generating Station in the future, he said.
Tittel also suggested the plant would benefit from a closed loop system, particularly in situations like Sandy where there are storm surges and associated flooding. He and other speakers urged the panel and NRC to prepare Oyster Creek for future storms.
"Governor Christie needs to do what he promised to do immediately two years ago, and has failed to do date, and that is lead the charge to ramp up safety at Oyster Creek," said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF), the NJ Chapter of Clean Water Action. "Sandy has highlighted existing, real, needless, and new risks at Oyster Creek."
The Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel was created to assist the DEP with the evaluation of the safe operation and cessation of operations at Oyster Creek, a news release said.
The closure of Oyster Creek was announced in December 2010. The nuclear plant will cease operation in 2019, 10 years before its operating license expires. Prior to closing down, a decommissioning plan has to be established.
The public will be included in the decommissioning process as several meetings are to be held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the vicinity of the nuclear plant.