The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) granted Exelon Corporation a permit that allows the plant to continue to withdraw water from the Forked River and discharge it into Oyster Creek.
The New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit renewal was granted in accordance with the agreement negotiated by the state and , ten years before its federal operating license expires, the DEP said.
"The early closure of the Oyster Creek plant is a major win for the long-term health of the Barnegat Bay ecosystem," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
The permit includes the conditions of the Dec. 9 2010 Administrative Consent Order (ACO) between Exelon and the DEP. The renewal takes effect April 1, 2012.
"The Christie Administration took firm and decisive action in reaching this unprecedented agreement to close the nation's oldest commercial nuclear reactor. That closure is the key component of the Governor's 10-point plan to restore the bay from decades of ecological decline," Martin said.
The DEP considered requiring Exelon to retrofit the plant with a closed-cycle cooling tower but the project would run up substantial costs and to design, permit and construct a system would take at least seven years.
As a result, the two counterparts reached an agreement to close the plant by Dec. 31, 2019.
“This permit was written by Exelon, not the DEP,” Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittel said. “It’s a one-sided permit. It’s going to continue to dump super heated water into the bay and create environmental problems.”
Oyster Creek Generating Station is the biggest source for thermal pollution, Tittel said. The current system causes algae to bloom, bacteria to grow, robs the bay of oxygen, creates dead zones, among other environmental issues.
“The longer the plant dumps heated water into the bay, the more impact it will have on the bay,” he said. “Eight years from now is a long time. I’m concerned there may not be a bay eight years from now.”
Under the administration of Gov. Jon Corzine, the requirement of cooling towers was pushed, Tittel said. Even after Oyster Creek shuts down in 2019, the plant will continue to withdraw water for cooling.
“Exelon has gotten what they wanted,” he said. “The DEP took the side of Exelon over the bay. We’re angry because there was a chance to help protect the bay and the state walked away.”
The permit could have at least included requirements that would help protect the bay, including cooling ponds on Oyster Creek’s property, Tittel said.
One requirement of the permit is for Exelon to contribute $100,000 annually towards research and programs for the restoration of the Barnegat Bay.
“We don’t need anymore research,” he said. “We already know the biggest source of thermal pollution is Oyster Creek.”
Tittel added that $100K is an insignificant amount. “It really does nothing to help the bay,” he said. “They should spend it on cooling off the water.”
The Sierra Club is also concerned that the plant will not actually shut down in 2019, he said. The Vermont Yankee plant is currently in a legal battle because the state voted against its relicensing after 2012. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the plant another 20 years to operate. A decision is expected by the end of the year.
“If Exelon wants to keep the plant open past that date, the DEP would have a hard time stopping them,” Tittel said. “I’m not sure that this plant will close in eight years.”
A draft permit was issued on June 1, allowing public review and comments. Two public hearing sessions were held on July 7.
To view the final permit and the DEP’s response to the comments, see the attached PDF.
“Getting this final permit is just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for us,” Oyster Creek spokesperson Suzanne D’Ambrosio said. “We always have and always will be committed to operating Oyster Creek safely, reliably and with respect for the environment for the remainder of Oyster Creek’s operating license.
The DEP also established an to monitor operations leading up to the plant's closure. The panel, chaired by Commissioner Martin, held its first meeting this week.