Cooling tower requirement for Oyster Creek

08 January 2010

US utility Exelon said that it might have to close its Oyster Creek nuclear power plant after New Jersey officials issued a draft permit requiring cooling towers to be constructed.


Oyster Creek (NRC)
Exelon's Oyster Creek plant (Image: NRC)

The Oyster Creek plant began operating in December 1969 as the first large-scale commercial nuclear power plant in the USA. Its single boiling water reactor produces 636 MWe net. In April 2009, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended the plant's operating licence for a further 20 years, until April 2029.


However, the plant currently discharges heated water into a canal that is connected to Barnegat Bay under a permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Acting commissioner Mark Mauriello announced that the DEP had proposed a new draft permit requiring plant owner Exelon to build a closed-loop cooling system to protect aquatic life in the Barnegat Bay ecosystem.


According to Mauriello, "The use of cooling towers would result in a much healthier bay." He added, "A healthier bay means a better quality of life for the region's residents as well as improved recreational experiences for those who visit to swim, fish, crab, watch wildlife - or simply to soak up the bay's beauty."


The DEP said that it had determined that a closed-cycle cooling system consisting of cooling towers "is the best available technology consistent with the federal Clean Water Act." It is therefore proposing that such a system be built as a condition for renewal of the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit the plant needs to operate.


While acknowledging that the proposal "involves complex issues and will result in extensive public interest," the DEP claims that the new cooling system "will significantly reduce the amount of water the plant needs to draw from the canal, thereby reducing impacts to aquatic life. It will also reduce the temperature of the water discharged into the canal."


Announcing that public hearings will be held in the plant area in February and March, the DEP said that it will "carefully weigh all viewpoints as it begins a comprehensive public comment process."


Joe Dominguez, senior vice president of Exelon Generation, commented: "On several occasions, the NJ DEP considered and rejected this kind of closed-cycle cooling at Oyster Creek, reasoning, among other things, that cooling towers are not cost effective at Oyster Creek." He added, "Indeed, Exelon will have no alternative but to close Oyster Creek if it is ultimately required to construct cooling towers."


"This draft permit is only one step in the permitting process," Dominguez noted. "We are confident that science and common sense will prevail and that the final permit issued by DEP will not require the installation of cooling towers."


He added, "Oyster Creek is not the only business affected by this action. The DEP's broad and erroneous conclusions regarding closed-cycle cooling can be applied with equal force to nearly all New Jersey power plants and many other industries within the state."


Exelon noted that the DEP's issuance of the draft environmental permit comes just days before a change of administration in New Jersey. In elections last November, Republican Christopher Christie ousted current Democratic New Jersey governor Jon Corzine.


Dominguez said, "The administration had four years to consider this draft permit yet took no action until barely a week before the inauguration of its successor." He added, "At a time when everyone from national policy leaders to founding members of Greenpeace and the American environmental movement recognize the vital importance of emissions-free energy from the nation's nuclear plants, this decision in the waning days of the Corzine administration is curious."


Currently, of the USA's total of 104 nuclear power reactors, 60 use once-through cooling from rivers, lakes or the sea, while 35 use wet cooling towers. Nine units use dual systems, switching according to environmental conditions.


Researched and written
by World Nuclear News