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NRC Asked to Revise Plans, Regulations to Consider Post-Sandy Conditions

The NRC is 'failing to enforce its regulations,' anti-nuclear advocates said on a teleconference with the federal agency

Anti-nuclear advocates and concerned citizens participated in a teleconference Thursday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requesting the federal agency to revise regulations and take action against Oyster Creek Generating Station in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“We’re here because we have serious concerns about the ongoing safety of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant,” said attorney Richard Webster of Public Justice, who submitted a petition on behalf of Beyond Nuclear, the New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF) and Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES).

“The NRC appears to be failing to enforce its regulations and that lack of enforcement is leading to a lack of adequate protection at the power plant,” he said.

The petition, filed in November, called on the NRC to keep Oyster Creek offline until safety measures were implemented to address certain problems.

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.

During Hurricane Sandy, the intake canal was inches away from flooding pumps key to the cooling system, according to the petition. Also, 33 of 43 emergency sirens were inoperable, which Oyster Creek failed to report in a timely manner, Webster said.

The advocates also argue that the pre-Sandy evacuation plans fail to address the post-Sandy reality and that the superstorm proved the design basis (how strong a storm the plant can withstand) is now deemed inadequate.

The NRC denied the request for immediate action because “there were no immediate safety concerns at Oyster Creek or to the health and safety of the public,” Alan Howe said. FEMA concluded that offsite emergency response was adequate and currently only one siren is inoperable.

Exelon Corporation, the owner and operator of Oyster Creek, must prove that there is adequate protection, Webster said, adding that revisions must be made to regulations and plans reflecting current conditions in the aftermath of Sandy.

The design basis is supposed to reflect the most severe event or natural phenomenon to occur in the area, Webster said, but revisions have yet to be made.

“We find this surprising because Hurricane Sandy is the worst event ever to hit the plant; the worst event recorded, as far as I understand, on the Jersey Shore,” he said.

The licensee should reevaluate the probable maximum flood based on the storm surge of Sandy because current regulations are now irrelevant, he said, which should have been done before the plant returned to service.

“We’re hoping that another big storm doesn’t hit,” Webster said. “We shouldn’t be sitting around, praying for a lack of a big flood for 20 years. This agency should be taking action to ensure that the plant can withstand the probable maximum flood on a reasonable basis.”

The plant’s design is supposed to withstand a category five hurricane, Peggy Sturmfels of the NJEF and Clean Water Action said. At most, the superstorm was a category one hurricane.

“A category five would’ve wiped us all out,” she said. “I’m really concerned that the design basis has not been revised.”

Anticipating more severe storms more frequently, Janet Tauro of the NJEF and GRAMMES asked for backup battery power to be installed for the emergency sirens as well as submersible pumps.

“All of us were greatly impacted by Sandy. Some of us were even displaced and are not able to live in our homes,” she said. “I don’t think that’s too much for the public to ask.”

In Ocean Township, the Planning Board approved townhouses to be built less than a mile away from the power plant’s dry cask storage, Committeeman Joseph Lachwiec said. The township had to evacuate thousands along Oyster Creek due to Sandy.

As a 67-year-old Vietnam Veteran, Lachawiec said he was “damn scared” as he watched Sandy’s storm surge rise. He questioned how FEMA’s new zone level and height regulations would impact the plant and its dry cask storage.

Over the years problems have arose at Oyster Creek, including tritium leaks, but with the plant expected to close in 2019 rather than 2020, when the operating license actually expires, it has been “solution by dilution,” he said.

He compared the plant to a car with an old motor.

“You don’t fix it. You don’t put a lot of money into it. You put a can or two of STP into it and sell it to someone else,” he said. “In my personal opinion, this is what’s going on with this plant. You’ve got band aid approaches to everything and I’m fearful of the whole thing.”

Representatives from the NRC and Exelon did not provide comments or questions in response to those who spoke up against Oyster Creek Generating Station. The meeting was not a public hearing or an opportunity for members of the petition to question the Petition Review Board on the merits of their decision, Howe had said.

The meeting was for members of the petition to provide additional explanation or support for the petition, he said. Following the teleconference the Petition Review Board would convene into an Internal Meeting to determine whether the petition would be reconsidered.

The meeting was transcribed by a court reporter and a webcast will be made available for the public.

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