letters to editor - firstname.lastname@example.org
My weekly column in the Current and Gazette, Cape May and Atlantic Counties:
Norm's column 11/4/09
Guinea pigs. Cute little creatures, even starred in a movie recently. Folks in South Jersey might be interested to know that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will be turning all of us in South Jersey into nuclear guinea pigs. The NRC will be doing that by including all of South Jersey in what I consider to be an experiment: finding out if old and clunky nuclear plants, whose operating licenses originally were set at 40 years, can run another 20 years without incident. Oyster Creek, the oldest nuclear plant in the country, was the first of South Jersey's four nukes to be given a 20 year extension. And Oyster Creek was just cited for having four unplanned outages, and given a "white" (not good) finding.
Now the NRC is holding hearings for the 20 year extensions for Salem Unit 1, Salem Unit 2, and Hope Creek, all located along the Delaware River at lovely and marshy Artificial Island, Lower Alloways Creek. The current operating licenses for the plants are set to expire as follows: Salem 1, Aug. 13, 2016; Salem 2, April 18, 2020; and Hope Creek, April 11, 2026.
Why do I say that we are all guinea pigs in the NRC's experiment? Basically its because no one really knows for sure what another 20 years of wear and tear will do to a nuclear reactor. There are many areas of concern when it comes to aging nuclear plants. There's embrittlement, the effect of 40 years of radiation on the internal structure and parts of the reactor. There's an issue with the electrical connections, buses and transformers, between the nuke plant and the grid. There's the problem of storing large amounts of high level nuclear waste onsite. With the Yucca Mountain waste depository being cancelled by the Obama administration, a good move in that we now no longer have to worry about transporting tons of radioactive waste across the country, most reactor sites spent fuel pools are now filled, and the nuke companies have to build "dry cask" storage for their waste. The reality is that Lower Alloways Township and Lacey Township will now be nuclear waste dumps for the foreseeable future.
David Lochbaum, former senior Reactor Safety advisor for the Union of Concerned Scientists, researched and developed a "bathtub curve" that showed that the most problems at nuclear plants occurred at the beginning and the end of their life-span. So NRC is letting aging nukes have 20 more years of end of life. Where are those so-called "death panels" when they are really needed?
The NRC is also making it hard for watchdog groups to intervene in the renewal process by renewing all three nukes at once. How in the world can one discuss the aging process at Hope Creek when the 40 years are not up for another 17 years?
We in South Jersey are guinea pigs because if there is an accident involving the release of radiation to the environment that occurs in the post-40 year period at one of our nukes, we are the ones who will be affected. And do I need to mention what even one accident at a South Jersey nuke plant would do to tourism in our area?
If you have concerns about the renewal process, or if you are pro-nuclear and want to send a love note to the NRC, information is available at www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/renewal.html. There is an "environmental scoping" meeting Thursday, November 5th, in Salem. You can also get information by contacting NRC Project Manager Charles Eccleston by telephone at 1-800-368-5642, ext. 8537, or by e-mail at Charles.Eccleston@nrc.gov.
By the way, if you are a recreational or commercial fisherman who fishes the Delaware Bay, this relicensing process should be out great interest to you. Salem Units 1 and 2 use a once-through process to cool the plants, and slaughter billions of fish and other marine life every year, in violation of the Clean Water Act.