Who stands watch for Ocean County?

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has failed miserably in its mission to protect the citizens of Ocean County.

Unbelievably, it seems to be all but a done deal that the NRC will grant Oyster Creek – the oldest nuclear plant in the country – another 20-year license renewal.

That means Ocean County residents will have another 20 years of worry and nail-biting about plant accidents, terrorist attacks and more and more spent fuel rods piling up in dry storage casks on the plant property.

It also means another 20 years of residents and motorists traveling on outdated twolane Route 9, a state highway better designed to meet the transportation needs of 1958, not 2008. The evacuation plan in the event of an accident at Oyster Creek in Lacey Township is laughable and impossible.

The NRC “staff” said in a recent letter to commission members that it recommends the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) renew Oyster Creek’s license.

The NRC’s operations staff found “reasonable assurance” that the Exelonowned, nearly 40-year-old plant could continue to operate within the confines of its current licensing “without undue risk” to the health and safety of Ocean County residents.

“Reasonable assurance” and “undue risk” are not the words many people in Ocean County want to hear when it comes to Oyster Creek, or Oyster Crack, as some are fond of calling it.

The three judges who make up the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), an NRC judicial advisory board, sat through two days of hearings in Toms River in September to listen to lawyers for a coalition of six environmental groups.

The hearings were historic. It was the first time in the NRC’s history that the ASLB had even granted a hearing on a citizen contention.

The coalition members contend that AmerGen’s monitoring of the reactor drywell shell is inadequate and that portions of the shell cannot take another 20 years.

But the ASLB judges disagreed and said it was “highly unlikely” corrosion would occur.

Only one of the judges, Anthony J. Baratta, had the guts to voice doubts about that “reasonable assurance” jazz. The coalition of groups filed an emergency appeal of the ASLB’s decision.

NRC officials, in their infinite wisdom, are now considering the coalition’s appeal, so the relicensing is still on hold. But it’s not hard to guess which way the NRC will eventually rule – another 20 years of life for Oyster Creek.

The citizens’ coalition is not a bunch of village cranks. The groups include the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch Inc., the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety, the New Jersey Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

The members of those groups should be lauded for their efforts to keep Oyster Creek from running until it reaches the age of 60.

The same cannot be said for Ocean County officials, like the Board of Freeholders. Most of them couldn’t even make it to the September ASLB hearings, which were held in the freeholder’s meeting room in the Ocean County Administration Building in Toms River.

The freeholders’ stance on Oyster Creek’s relicensing is laughable and infuriating. They are leaving it up to the NRC.