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Oyster Creek Critics Seek Restart Roadblock

The refueling outage at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Lacey Township is nearly complete. But if anti-nuclear activists have any say in it, there’s a lot more to do before power production resumes.

Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant (Exelon)

A coalition of opponents have filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Petition Review Board to delay restart until an in-depth systems analysis, including modeling of high-stress areas, is performed. The NRC rejected the original petition last week.

On the day of the NRC’s decision, inspectors found a hole in a weld to a water conduit that cools the reactor cap during refueling outages. The nozzle sprays water that reduces temperatures enough to lift the cap for maintenance. It was characterized as a non-emergency situation involving a pinhole leaking two to three drops of water a minute, and the weld’s been resealed.

But Janet Tauro of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES) takes issue with the procedure. “Our expert tells us that unless UT (ultrasonic) testing is done on that entire pipe, what are the guarantees that there aren’t any other leaks?”

Neil Sheehan at NRC counters that it’s exactly the kind of analysis they seek that led to the discovery of the leak. “The company had to check out all these various systems,” he says, “and in the course of doing it they found this pinhole leak.”

The nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant was taken off-line for refueling maintenance just before Superstorm Sandy roared through, creating a surge that elevated the water levels in the reactor’s intake chamber more than six feet above mean sea level. It prompted an alert, a step above the first-tier “unusual event.” At the same time, the plant lost its own electrical input and a backup generator failed. Power problems at the height of the storm knocked out all but seven of the generating station’s 43 sirens in the 10-mile emergency planning radius.

The cumulative effect, capped by a leak that critics say they sought to address during relicensing, prompted them to seek ultrasonic testing and modeling as a condition of restarting, and to seek a reversal of the NRC’s decision against it.

Oyster Creek is scheduled to cease operations in 2019.

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