Nation's Oldest Nuclear Reactor Calls It QuitsEngineering360 News Desk | September 14, 2018
The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, located 50 miles east of Philadelphia in New Jersey, is scheduled to retire on September 17. The plant came online on Dec. 1, 1969, making it the oldest commercially operated nuclear power plant in the United States.
Oyster Creek was previously expected to retire on Dec. 31, 2019, but its retirement was accelerated by more than a year to coincide with the plant’s fuel and maintenance cycle. The plant employs around 500 people.
The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that Oyster Creek is a 625 megawatt (MW), single-unit, General Electric boiling water reactor. In 2017, it generated 5.4 million mWh hours of electricity, or almost twice as much as all of the solar photovoltaic systems in New Jersey.
Oyster Creek’s initial 40-year license expired in 2009, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted the plant a 20-year license renewal. In 2010, an agreement was reached between Oyster Creek’s owner-operator, Exelon Generation, and New Jersey state environmental regulators to retire the plant in 2019. Among the factors affecting this decision were local water safety concerns and estimated costs of more than $800 million to install cooling towers to meet environmental standards.
EIA says that Oyster Creek is one of four nuclear power reactors in New Jersey. The others are Salem Generating Station Units 1 and 2 and Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station Unit 1. Nuclear power accounted for 45% of the state’s total electricity production in 2017. Oyster Creek alone represents 15% of the state’s total installed nuclear capacity and about 7% of total electricity production.
When it closes, Oyster Creek will be the sixth nuclear power plant to retire in the past five years. After Oyster Creek’s retirement, the United States will have 98 operating nuclear reactors at 59 plants, EIA says. Twelve of those reactors, with a combined capacity of 11.7 GW, are scheduled to retire within the next seven years.
Oyster Creek is one of four nuclear power plants — along with Palisades Power Plant, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station and Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station — that have planned retirement dates more than a decade before their operating licenses expire. Economic factors have played a role in decisions to continue operating or to retire nuclear power plants, EIA says. Increased competition from natural gas and renewables has made it increasingly difficult for nuclear generators to compete in electricity markets.
When a nuclear plant retires, it stops producing electricity and enters into the decommissioning phase. EIA says that decommissioning involves removing and safely storing spent nuclear fuel, decontaminating the plant to reduce residual radioactivity, dismantling plant structures, removing contaminated materials to disposal facilities and then releasing the property for other uses once the NRC has determined the site is safe.
In late July, Exelon Generation announced plans to sell Oyster Creek to Holtec International for decommissioning. As the site’s new owner, Holtec will manage all site decommissioning and restoration activities.
Once in place, Holtec will accelerate Oyster Creek’s decommissioning timeline. As part of the plan, Holtec will contract with Comprehensive Decommissioning International (CDI) LLC to perform the decontamination and decommissioning. CDI is a joint venture company of Holtec and SNC‑Lavalin. The partners plan to decommission the power plant within eight years, more than 50 years ahead of the industry‑allowed 60‑year timeline.