Oldest US nuclear reactor: a 'disaster' in waiting?

Mar 24, 2011 by Karin Zeitvogel
An aerial view of the Oyster Creek Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Forked River, New Jersey on March 22. A sleepy New Jersey town has popped onto people's radar screens because it has the oldest running nuclear power plant in the United States -- and, some say, the most dangerous.

A sleepy New Jersey town has popped onto people's radar screens because it has the oldest running nuclear power plant in the United States -- and, some say, the most dangerous.

Named for a Revolutionary War general, Lacey is the kind of American town that few from outside the seaside settlement knew much about before the earthquake and tsunami in triggered a nuclear crisis.

Down the road from the 1950s-style diner and across from the bridge that locals use as a fishing pier stands the Oyster Creek nuclear plant.

It uses a GE Mark I Boiling Water reactor identical to those that lost power at Japan's Fukushima plant in the March 11 earthquake and then was struck by a tsunami that knocked out its backup generators, causing reactor cooling functions to fail.

US anti-nuclear activists and many residents of Lacey and surrounding Jersey shore townships worry that a similar nuclear disaster could happen at Oyster Creek, and it wouldn't need an earthquake or to trigger it.

Oyster Creek has been dogged by problems including a corroding liner in the carbon steel containment unit; leaks that allow radioactive tritium to seep into drinking water; and huge volumes of stocked spent fuel rods.

"We have 40 years of radiation on site -- two-and-a-half to three times more than in Japan," anti-nuclear activist Jeff Brown told AFP.

"You also have that tremendously stupid design to start with where the spent fuel rods are sitting on top of the reactor," he said, raising a fear among residents that the reactor could be an easy target for a terrorist attack.

"At the very least, we need a no-fly zone over Oyster Creek. We have a no-fly zone over Disney World but not here," said Peggi Sturmfels, a program organizer at the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Oyster Creek is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation, which employs 700 people at the plant. The company disputes the charges by activists, insisting the reactor is safe.

A security sign on a fence at the Oyster Creek Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Forked River, New Jersey on March 22. A sleepy New Jersey town has popped onto people's radar screens because it has the oldest running nuclear power plant in the United States -- and, some say, the most dangerous.

"Nuclear power stations in general are the most hardened and well-protected industrial facilities in existence. Oyster Creek is no exception," Exelon spokesman Craig Nesbitt told AFP.

Half a million people live within what would be the evacuation zone if Oyster Creek were ever to have a radiation accident. In the summer, the population swells with beach-goers heading to the Jersey shore.

The town is 85 miles (137 kilometers) south of New York and 55 miles (88 kilometers) east of Philadelphia.

New Jersey is not in a seismically active zone but meteorologists say the coastal state is long overdue for a Category Five hurricane.

"One good storm surge, and Oyster Creek's backup generators are swamped. It's Japan all over again," Sturmfels said.

Nesbitt rejects such assessments, saying the plant is five miles (eight kilometers) off the Atlantic coast, protected by barrier islands, and 23 feet (seven meters) above sea level, far higher than the largest recorded storm tide of seven feet, in 1962.

He also said Oyster Creek "is constantly evaluated and improved," and that more than $1 billion has been spent on plant upgrades since operations began in 1969.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended Oyster Creek's license for another 20 years in 2009.

The NRC not only gives out nuclear licenses but is the industry safety watchdog. That's a conflict of interest, say critics who liken the situation to the regulation of the oil industry prior to last year's devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Under pressure from state officials, Oyster Creek's license was rolled back to 10 years, and the plant is now due to close for good in 2019.

Even that's too late, say some residents.

"I don't like it. They should close it sooner," retiree Barbara Murrofsky told AFP as she shopped at a local hardware store.

"What's happening in Japan has made us more aware of the problems we have in our own backyard," she said. "There are so many people who live near here that an accident would be a major disaster. They should shut it down now."

A sign at the entrance to the Oyster Creek Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Forked River, New Jersey, on March 19. A sleepy New Jersey town has popped onto people's radar screens because it has the oldest running nuclear power plant in the United States -- and, some say, the most dangerous.

But another local, Rick Gifford, looked philosophically at Oyster Creek.

"It's been running for 40 years with no problem, there's no reason it should start having problems now," he said.

Greg Auriemma, a lawyer for the Sierra Club environmental group, said Gifford's stance was not unusual in Lacey.

"There's a sense of complacency because while the plant has had a lot of negative publicity, no major disaster has occurred. So people look at it and say, 'It's been running for 40 years, what's the big deal?'"

But, Auriemma said, as Japan showed, one tragic event can dramatically change the situation. "There's a potential disaster that could happen right here in our backyard," he told AFP.

Last week, President Barack Obama ordered a "comprehensive review" of US nuclear safety and vowed to learn lessons from Japan's atomic accident.

The NRC on Wednesday launched its review of the nation's 24 US reactors, saying a full report and recommendations will be published in six months.

A federal court hearing a case brought in 2009 by environmental groups against the NRC on Monday asked the nuclear watchdog to advise if Japan's unfolding crisis impacted "the propriety" of renewing Oyster Creek's license.

On the same day, the NRC extended for 20 years the license of another Mark 1 reactor, in the state of Vermont.

The Vermont Yankee reactor has had tritium leaks, a cooling tower collapse and even a fire in the plant's transformer.

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User comments : 17

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trekgeek1
5 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2011
All I'm hearing is " reactor......... maybe kill people from Jersey Shore". How is this a bad thing?

Seriously though, the Japanese reactors were the victims of multiple backup failures. This plant isn't going to have a 9.0 earthquake rattle its backup generators. So even if the reactors had some local failure, the absence of a regional disaster seems to indicate that backup power could be provided quickly. They were unable to get external power to the Japanese reactors because the country was in a state of emergency.
ennui27
2 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2011
tregeek1 - that is probably so .... but it is also becoming obvious that the operators in Japan fibbed extensively about their safety precautions and the possibilities of a disaster .....

Is there any way to be sure that all what this operator Exelon corp. is any more truthful? Is it worth gamboling on it?
chas_c
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2011
"One good storm surge, and Oyster Creek's backup generators are swamped. It's Japan all over again," Sturmfels said.

Really? The plant is 5 miles inland and 23 feet above sea level and this troll is talking about storm surge?
The_P
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
Oyster Creek does have a certain ring to it that seems to pair well with a disaster story though, doesn't it?
ennui27
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
Oyster Creek does have a certain ring to it that seems to pair well with a disaster story though, doesn't it?


"The Incident at Oyster Creek"?

"How I Learned to Love Oyster Creek"?

"The Man Who Shot Oyster Creek"?

"The Oyster Creek Mutiny?"

"Attack at Oyster Creek"?
ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
I will just leave this here..

http://en.wikiped...er_Plant
Husky
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
Jersey, we got a "Situation" with the reactor here. Anyways now wiould be a good time for generation IV gasreactors and subcritical small modular reactors with passive cooling/failure measures take over
rgwalther
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
'gamboling'?, To leap about playfully; frolic. n. A playful skipping or frolicking about. ...
Or is this a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson term. From The Jaberwock maybe? If you are afficted by terminal, debilitating boredom, perhaps you should not publish your opinions.
Most of the damage from any nuclear disaster will be caused by lawyers' language during the design phase. Lawyers do more damage to people, financial institutions and legal reality every year than the monetary cost of any disaster in the history of mankind.
ennui27
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
"Most of the damage from any nuclear disaster will be caused by lawyers' language during the design phase. Lawyers do more damage to people, financial institutions and legal reality every year than the monetary cost of any disaster in the history of mankind."

That certainly sounds like a prepared statement, walrus, how long have you been waiting to speel that?

As for substance, something you seem to be missing in your rant:
"More than a quarter of U.S. nuclear plant operators have failed to properly tell regulators about equipment defects that could imperil reactor safety, according to a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions inspector general. "
from the Wapo:http://www.washin...?hpid=z2
rgwalther
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
That certainly sounds like a prepared statement, walrus, how long have you been waiting to speel that?


How long! Let's see...Hmmm... I graduated from UKy Law school in May, 1978, but I had developed my basic, political beliefs in the early to late 60's.(partial thanks to Heinlein and the Jesuits) My beliefs became firm during the demonstrations of '69, '70... I could go on, but even though not really a Beatles fan, the walrus is Paul.

For forty-one+ years, I told and still tell my eight children and five(currently)grandchildren this same 'speel'. I assume that you mean spiel. Guten Morgan, mein freund. Auf Wiedersehen.
ennui27
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
WOW - a biography at the drop of a reference.
UKy means little to me, and law school less, the Jesuits are always impressive (come from Redemptorists, myself). Heinlein, if you mean Robert, impressed me at 14, wow'ed mw at 18 and bored me at 22. Stranger in a Strange Land revived him for a bit.

I sort of recall some disturbances in the 60s .... being chased by the 101st AirBorn about the Pentagon being one - but I was concerned with more Canadian matters.

Oh - the Walrus is the bombastic friend of the Carpenter - we were speaking of some guy named Dodgson, were we not - no doubt Paul knew that too.

You stay close to the sacraments, now, revisit your old copies of John Gresham for confirmation of what a good guy you are.. Try to be more like him than perhaps John Yoo or Alberto Gonzales.
kootzie
not rated yet Mar 26, 2011
Since the lawyer-bashing has already begun,
I will add some dispassionate facts to the fire...
** Hiring a lawyer to re-present one is formally an
admission of incompetence - one is viewed as an incompetent
ward of the state whose testimony/evidence are purely lies.
**Pleading "Not-Guilty" in court is contempt of court.
**Counselling a client to plead not guilty is at the very
least professional misconduct and borders on criminality.
** lawyers often rely extensively on judges for advice/assistance/practicing_law_from_the_bench (an unlawful activity)

The trick is to deal with all legaloid presentments administratively in one's capacity as a real wo/man and to stay out of court (which are mostly commercial corporations staging puppet shows for their own cashflow) except by "special visitation".
ennui27
not rated yet Mar 26, 2011
I must apologize for slagging UKy - one of my favourite football players came from there - the recently departed George Blanda.

As for lawyers - notice how this lawyer has taken the discussion away from the short comings of nuclear watchdog agencies/management and off into lala land.

The article just reinforces the idea that nukes are dangerous - too dangerous to be built.
rgwalther
5 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2011
Gee Golly, this is the worst that I have ever been traumatized by self proclaimed boredom. Perhaps ennui27 could rise slightly above its emotionally traumatic nether world if slight effort was applied to proof reading. '27' can be improved by adding even one digit; Very Taoist, wouldn't you agree?
As for a 'biography', not even the tip of a AGW iceberg.
Goodby and Good Luck.
Peace and Honor
ennui27
not rated yet Mar 27, 2011
"Gee Golly, this is the worst that I have ever been traumatized by self proclaimed boredom. Perhaps ennui27 could rise slightly above its emotionally traumatic nether world if slight effort was applied to proof reading. '27' can be improved by adding even one digit; Very Taoist, wouldn't you agree?"
Fear not - you cannot traumatize me ....and I have no wish to 'disturb the universe' for you in any case - so we are safe from, at least spiritual trauma.
The 27 was less tao than praxis - ennui was taken as were 1-2-3 ... so I jumped to 27, the day of the month I was born. It is more convenient than, say 3.14159265 - if not as eternal.

trekgeek - your explanation is correct, but it is in essence a string of 'yeah buts....' - are we to pretend that major disasters are limited to Japan? Nevertheless, it remains that the dangers do not need to be accommodated, see Germany for plausible alternatives.
ennui27
not rated yet Mar 27, 2011
"Lawyers do more damage to people, financial institutions and legal reality every year than the monetary cost of any disaster in the history of mankind."

You may have a point there, even if it should be adjusted for time. I worked at an oil plant (tar sands) which had a major explosion - worst in N. America at the time. The repair bill was about a billion dollar ..... $600million of that was for lawyers trying to assign blame.
flying_finn
not rated yet Mar 29, 2011
number 9, number9,number9,................!pu gnilip speek etsaw raelcun eht .....elihwnaeM

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