Board sides with citizens' groups on Oyster Creek
BY PATRICIA A. MILLER
A Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) advisory board has denied a request by the Oyster Creek nuclear plant's owner to dismiss a contention about monitoring corrosion in the plant's drywell liner.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) ruled that AmerGen Energy Co. had failed to satisfy the standards for granting a summary disposition.
"At this juncture and on this record, we are unable to conclude as a matter of law that AmerGen's monitoring plan is sufficient to ensure adequate safety margins during the period of extensive operation," the ASLB said in its June 19 decision.
It is the first time in the NRC's history that the board agreed to hear a contention, said NRC spokesman Neil A. Sheehan.
A coalition of six organizations filed the contention that cited concerns about corrosion in the Lacey Township nuclear plant's drywell liner earlier this year.
The groups are the Nuclear Informa-tion and Resource Service, the Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch Inc., Grandmoth-ers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES), the New Jersey Public Interest Group, the New Jersey Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Foundation.
"We are thrilled," said GRAMMES member Janet Tauro. "This is a landmark case. We are the first citizens group ever to be given a hearing on a contention. So we made history. We are extremely proud of our team, our attorneys and our technical experts."
The ASLB's decision means there will be a full public hearing on the drywell corrosion monitoring issue on Sept. 24 in Toms River. The hearing could run for more than a day, NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci said.
The NRC supported AmerGen's request for a summary disposition. Screnci declined to discuss the ASLB's refusal to dismiss the contention.
"Typically, when there is a ruling, we don't have a reaction," Screnci said. "AmerGen made a request and we filed our opinion on that request. The board made a decision, so we will prepare for the hearing."
AmerGen spokeswoman Leslie Cifelli said the company was disappointed in the board's decision.
"The good news is that there is one sole contention left, which is the frequency of testing," Cifelli said. "We are confident our testing process and procedures are more than adequate, and we will prove that during the hearing."
It was the latest setback in AmerGen's quest to have the NRC license the plant - the oldest nuclear plant in the country - for another 20 years. Oyster Creek went online in 1969.
The state Attorney General's Office petitioned the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in May to contest the NRC's stance that the impact of a terrorist attack should not be part of a nuclear plant's relicensing review. The Attorney General's Office filed the petition on behalf of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
And earlier this month, the DEP faulted both AmerGen and the NRC for relying on environmental studies that were up to 30 years old during the relicensing process.
The DEP refused to make a "positive consistency determination" for Oyster Creek, as required by the federal Coastal Zone Management Act. The positive determination is required for all applicants who apply to a federal agency for a license for a new facility or to relicense an existing facility.
"If they think they have an easy road ahead of them, they don't," said Paul Gunter, the director of the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service's Reactor Watchdog Project. "They have a lot of venues where they will have to continue to spend millions. I would say the full-court press is on. All these things add up."
The ASLB established that there is a genuine dispute with its ruling, he said.
"Ultimately, the NRC is still the judge," he said. "That frankly remains a concern. Now we have to circumvent these other pitfalls that come with the territory of an NRC licensing procedure."
Tauro said even if the plant is not relicensed, it still has to be decommissioned.
"They are the house guest that doesn't know when it's time to leave," she said. "It's been 35 years. It's been enough. It's time to pack it in."