SALEM -- SALEM — In the new Energy & Environmental Resource Center, snazzy interactive displays show how much electricity that wind and solar power can generate, how you can conserve power and what role nuclear power might have in the nation's energy future.
According to the
center's owner, Public Service Energy Group, it's plenty.
New Jersey's largest utility opened its new $2 million education center today as the company prepares to apply to put a fourth nuclear reactor on Artificial Island in Lower Alloways Township, a few miles away in this marshy, remote corner of New Jersey along the Delaware Bay.
The company says it's a way to demystify nuclear energy, explain big energy dilemmas and spark some interest in science.
An activist who opposes nuclear power sees it another way: "They for years have gone out to the schools in the area on propaganda missions," said Norm Cohen, the coordinator of the Unplug Salem campaign, who expects local opposition to PSEG adding a fourth reactor. "This way, they can have the schools come to them."
Before the 9/11 attacks, energy education centers were common annexes of nuclear power plants. But access to plants has been restricted and companies have gone away from them.
That could change as the nation prepares for a possible boom in plant openings.
No new nuclear power plants have been issued licenses in the U.S. since 1979, the year a partial meltdown at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant provided a major scare.
But as energy consciousness has grown, so has interest in building new reactors. Environmentalists balancing the benefits of low emissions with the grave consequences of problems are now divided over whether it's a good source of power. Not long ago, most opposed nuclear power.
The U.S. gets about one-fifth of its power from the 104 plants operating across the country.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is actively considering applications for 21 reactors at 13 sites, most already home to reactors.
Walter Hill, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, said education centers are planned to go along with many of the reactors. Marv Fertel, the group's president and CEO, said a survey conducted by the group found that nearly half of people who had visited the energy centers strongly support nuclear power, in contrast with only about a quarter of those who have not been to a center.
That may be a reason PSEG is opening its energy center first, to help sway public opinion in favor of an addition reactor.
The company has begun the process of seeking license renewals for the three reactors it already runs on Artificial Island.
PSEG President Bill Izzo said the company also plans to submit its application in the next few months for a fourth reactor. Even if it's approved, it's likely to take more than a decade before it would be running.
The new high-tech display at the education center, which would be the envy of many science museums, are running now.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony today, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat; U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican; and NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko were on hand to praise the prospects of nuclear power and the energy center for explaining it.
But most in the public won't get to see the display. It's to be open by appointment only, used largely for school field trips and scout outings