NRC OKs Oyster Creek 20-Year License Extension

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last week approved a 20-year license extension for Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek Generating Station in Ocean Country, N.J.—the nation’s oldest operating nuclear power reactor.

The plant’s operating license, which would have expired on April 9, has been extended until April 9, 2029. NRC Director of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Eric Leeds said the license renewal review had been the most extensive to date.

Since July 2005, when AmerGen Energy (now an Exelon subsidiary) submitted the 2,400-page renewal application, the process has involved review of thousands of documents, a detailed review of historical equipment and component performance, and a rigorous review of the existing maintenance and engineering programs to ensure that the station is capable of maintaining plant systems over the extended license period.

The application was also reviewed by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an independent body of nuclear safety experts that advises the NRC, and was the subject of an adjudicatory hearing by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), a quasi-judicial arm of the NRC that handles licensing matters. Challenges to the ASLB’s decision were addressed on appeal by the Commission itself.

“The staff’s licensing and inspection scrutiny, along with the independent contributions of the ACRS, the ASLB and various citizen groups, should give the people of New Jersey added confidence that Oyster Creek will remain safe during its continued operation,” Leeds said.

Oyster Creek began operating in 1969 with a 40-year license. AmerGen acquired the plant from GPU Nuclear in 2000, and AmerGen Energy Co. LLC was formally integrated into Exelon Generation on Dec. 23, 2008.

According to Exelon, the 40-year term for initial nuclear plant operating licenses was based on amortization schedules used by banks that financed large utility projects, not on safety, technical, or environmental considerations. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the original legislation authorizing civilian use of nuclear energy, permits nuclear power plants to renew their operating licenses.

Since operations at Oyster Creek began, more than $1.2 billion has been invested in capital improvements designed to modify and enhance the capability of Oyster Creek to produce electricity safely and reliably, Exelon said. In the past three years alone, more than $100 million in additional projects were completed at the Oyster Creek plant site.

As part of the review process, the NRC (and other bodies) held 12 public meetings, allowing for public input into the process. The ASLB also conducted a two-day hearing on concerns raised by some citizen groups and ultimately ruled that Exelon Nuclear’s aging management program on the drywell was adequate.

The NRC said that Oyster Creek is the 52nd reactor license it has renewed to date. Thirteen other applications are under review.

Sources: Exelon, NRC