LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — A year ago, New Jersey environmental officials reached a deal with Exelon Corp. to shut down the nation's oldest nuclear power plant 10 years earlier than expected. In return, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station would not have to build costly cooling towers.
On Wednesday, state officials kept their end of the deal, granting Chicago-based Exelon a permit that will enable the plant to continue drawing water from the Oyster Creek to help cool the nuclear reactor. It also will be able to keep discharging heated water back into the creek and the Barnegat Bay.
The hot water is suspected of contributing to algae blooms and increased numbers of stinging jellyfish in the bay.
The state says the early closure is a good trade-off for not requiring cooling towers, but environmentalists say the deal is bad for the bay.
Robert Martin, the state's environmental protection commissioner, said the early shutdown is a good enough trade-off to justify letting Oyster Creek keep drawing from and discharging into the creek and bay. The agreement reached on Dec. 9, 2010, calls for the plant to shut down by the end of 2019 instead of 2029 as called for in its current license.
"The early closure of the Oyster Creek plant is a major win for the long-term health of the Barnegat Bay ecosystem," Martin said. "(Gov. Chris Christie's) 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."
But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and a leading critic of the plant, said "this permit allows Oyster Creek to further destroy our bay."
"The DEP has taken the side of Exelon over Barnegat Bay," he said. "This permit will mean more super-heated water going into the bay longer, not only killing fish, but undermining the health of the bay. As long as we have this super-heated water going into the bay, it will never be adequately protected and the governor's 10-point plan will never work."
Tittel said the permit was "based on political science, not real science."
Under the previous administration of Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey wanted Oyster Creek to build closed-cycle cooling towers that would eliminate the need to draw water from the creek and prevent heated water from being discharged back into it. But Exelon fought the proposal, saying it was too expensive.
Martin said that as a result of the early shutdown deal reached with Exelon, the department determined that closed-cycle cooling is not the best technology available given the length of time that would be required to retrofit the plant, and the limited lifespan of the facility after the new cooling system was brought online. He said it would take at least seven years to design, build, and get permits for such a system, compared with the agreement which will close the plant in eight years.
Exelon welcomed the issuance of the permit.
"Exelon and our team of dedicated Oyster Creek employees remain committed, as always, to operating Oyster Creek safely, reliably and with respect for the environment for the remainder of its operating life," spokeswoman Suzanne D'Ambrosio said..
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC