Exelon Cuts Jobs Ahead of Oyster Creek Closure

The first of about 400 workers remaining at the soon-to-close Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey will begin leaving their jobs over the next few weeks, according to a notice filed this month by Exelon Corp. with the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) filing says 84 employees will see their jobs end effective June 22. Suzanne D’Ambrosio, a spokeswoman for the 650-MW plant in Ocean County, about 60 miles east of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said workers will be leaving the facility over a seven-month period. Exelon in February said it will close the plant in October.

Bryan Hanson, president and chief nuclear officer for Exelon, at the time of that February announcement said, “We will offer a position elsewhere in Exelon to every employee that wishes to stay with the company, and we thank our neighbors for the privilege of allowing us to serve New Jersey for almost 50 years.”

Oyster Creek, along with Unit 1 of the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station in New York, is the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear plant. It came online December 1, 1969, the same day as Nine Mile Point. Oyster Creek, which has a single boiling water reactor, was among the assets Exelon acquired when it bought AmerGen in 2003.

D’Ambrosio said most of the remaining workers will continue at the plant during its decommissioning, and reiterated Hanson’s pledge that employees will have the opportunity to stay with the company. The company has not said how many workers will be involved in the decommissioning, which will take years.

Oyster Creek in 2009 received a 20-year operating license extension, to 2029, from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Exelon a year later said it would close the plant early, in 2019, as part of a deal with state regulators after state officials said the plant needed to install expensive cooling tower technology required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Its decision to shut down the plant in October of this year came amid a period of historically low power prices that have negatively impacted power generators, primarily nuclear and coal plants.

Exelon in February said a closure this year “will give Oyster Creek employees a better opportunity to pursue open positions across the Exelon family of companies. The decision will also help Exelon better manage resources as fuel and maintenance costs continue to rise amid historically low power prices.”

Oyster Creek by law has 60 years to complete the decommissioning process. Exelon has an outline of the process on its website. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group for the nuclear industry, estimates the cost of decommissioning at about $500 million per unit.

Cleanup of a closed nuclear site can take many years. As an example, EnergySolutions, now in charge of deconstructing and decommissioning of the Zion Nuclear Power Station near Chicago, Illinois, a former Exelon plant, has said it plans to finish its work this year—20 years after the Zion facility closed.

New Jersey will have three operating nuclear units after Oyster Creek shuts down: Units 1 and 2 at the 2,300-MW Salem Nuclear Power Plant, and a single 1,170-MW unit at the Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station. All three units are in Salem County, southwest of Philadelphia, and operated by Public Service Enterprise Group. Units 1 and 2 at Salem have licenses to operate until 2036 and 2040, respectively. Hope Creek has a license to operate until 2046.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed a bill that reportedly will provide up to $300 million in ratepayer subsidies to the state’s nuclear plants that qualify in an effort to make them more financially sound.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)