On June 30, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved PSEG Nuclear’s request to extend the operating licenses of Salem Generating Station Units 1 and 2 an additional 20 years. The decision was met by protests from environmentalists, who say that PSEG Nuclear has done too little to address leaks at the plant.

Each Salem unit has a net capacity of approximately 1,175 MW. Salem Unit 1’s previous 40-year operating license was set to expire in 2016; Unit 2’s operating license would have expired in 2020. The plants, located on a 740-acre site in Lower Alloways Creek, Salem County, will now be licensed through 2036 and 2040 respectively.

Environmentalists say that leaks in spent fuel pools that allowed radioactive tritium into the site’s soil and groundwater have not been adequately dealt with. The Star-Ledger reported that Salem 1’s spent fuel pool still leaks about 100 gallons a day but that "NRC documents say the leakage is now recaptured by a better-working drainage system."

More than 50% of New Jersey’s electricity comes from nuclear power. The two Salem units and Hope Creek constitute the second-largest commercial nuclear power facility in the U.S.

PSEG Nuclear says that over the past five years it has invested more than $525 million in equipment upgrades and enhancements at the Salem plant. It is also exploring the possibility of building an additional nuclear plant in Salem County. In May 2010, the company filed an application for an early site permit (ESP). Though not a commitment to build, the ESP would recognize the proposed location to be suitable from a safety, environmental and emergency planning standpoint. An NRC decision on the ESP is not expected until late 2013.

The NRC is expected to announce a decision within the next few weeks regarding the license renewal of PSEG Nuclear’s single-unit Hope Creek Generating Station.

Sources: PSEG Nuclear, The Star-Ledger