Assembly committee to discuss Oyster Creek


Staff Writer

The state Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee is coming to Ocean County to hold a public meeting about the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant. The meeting will be held on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Brick civic center, Chambers Bridge Road.

Oyster Creek operates on an 800-acre tract in the Forked River section of Lacey. It has been in operation since 1969 and is the oldest large-scale commercial nuclear reactor in the United States. The Exelon Corp. is expected to apply for a 20-year license extension to the Nuclear Regula-tory Commission (NRC) to keep the plant running until 2029. The plant’s current license expires in 2009.

The Oyster Creek reactor is about 17 miles from Brick, a distance Brick Mayor Joseph Scarpelli has said is too close for comfort. Scarpelli has said he fears the plant could be a “prime target” for a terrorist attack. On-site storage modules hold 34 years’ worth of nuclear waste a little more than a football field away from Route 9, according to the mayor.

Assemblyman John F. McKeon (D-Essex), the chair of the Environment and Solid Waste Committee, said it has become common practice for the committee to meet in a town that would be affected by legislation the committee is considering. However, this is a unique case because the committee cannot decide if Oyster Creek’s license will be extended.

As Pete Resler, a communications manager for Exelon., said, that decision lies with the NRC.

But the Assembly committee can pass a resolution and make its opinion known, McKeon said. Therefore, the Dec. 2 meeting is meant to be a “factual and explor-atory” session for the committee members and the public in general.

“We have to seriously look at the whole issue,” McKeon said. “The health and safety of millions is in the balance.”

While McKeon said he is not predisposed to say there is no case for nuclear power in the future, he said he wants to examine the circumstances of Oyster Creek further.

“While the NRC will make the ultimate decision, I believe our state government needs to make an accurate and thorough review,” said Assembly Michael J. Panter (D-Monmouth), the vice chairman of the Environment and Solid Waste Committee.

Panter said that because Oyster Creek is the oldest reactor in the country with a design type that has since been abandoned, the state needs to weigh the risks involved and take a stand.

“The federal government doesn’t have this reactor in their back yard,” Panter said.

The assemblyman said he plans to review the committee’s discussion with constituents in his district soon after the Dec. 2 meeting take place.

Resler said during a telephone interview that Exelon is aware of the meeting and that someone from the corporation will be present. He said the firm “welcomes the opportunity” to discuss the plant’s future, adding that Oyster Creek has positive economical and environmental impacts for the region.

The Brick Township Council passed a resolution in March that not only opposed the plant’s relicensing, but called for its immediate closure and decommissioning. To date, 13 municipalities in Ocean County seek an immediate closure of the reactor and four just oppose its relicensing. Former Gov. James E. McGreevey and other state officials, including state Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean), also oppose relicensing.

Lacey supports the plant’s relicensing.

Scarpelli said he understands that union workers are concerned for their jobs and Lacey officials are concerned about the municipality’s economy. He said there would be jobs available for about 10 years during decommissioning if the plant was shut down. Scarpelli said he hopes Exelon will change the site to a renewable energy source, which would also provide jobs.

Scarpelli has referenced a study conducted by the Radiation and Public Health Project that reported elevated levels of strontium 90 — a byproduct of nuclear fission — in Ocean County children’s teeth. Of 106 samples, the highest levels were found in teeth tested in Brick, according to the 2001 study. Scarpelli said he believes winds have carried the radioactive isotope from the plant toward Brick.

However, many in the scientific community dispute claims that strontium 90 causes cancer in humans, that nuclear plants are responsible for its elevated levels in bones and other findings of the “Tooth Fairy Project,” as it was dubbed. A December 2003 report posted on the Nuclear Energy Institute Internet Web site dismissed the Tooth Fair Project as “junk science” and manipulated data with no scientific merit.

Scarpelli said the best result of the Dec. 2 meeting would be for the Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee to call for tougher rules for relicensing or to request that the plant be shut down.