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Will Oyster Creek's nuclear waste be cash cow for buyer Holtec?

Will Oyster Creek's nuclear waste be cash cow for buyer Holtec?


A high-level nuclear waste storage facility doesn’t exist yet, since the federal government stopped its attempts in 2011 to develop the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada in the face of local and regional opposition.

So, for the foreseeable future, nuclear plants’ spent fuel must be stored on site of both operating and closed plants.

But Holtec International, which is trying to buy the Oyster Creek plant in Lacey Township for decommissioning, has an application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to open a short-term facility in New Mexico. It proposes to store high-level nuclear waste there, such as spent fuel rods from nuclear plants.

A Holtec spokesperson did not respond to requests for information.

Holtec would likely try to transport Oyster Creek’s waste to the New Mexico facility. That and the fact that Holtec manufactures casks for storage of nuclear waste bring up conflicts of interest, said Clean Water Action Board Chairwoman Janet Tauro, of Brick Township. She has been fighting to get the Oyster Creek plant closed for years.

Tauro said whoever does the decommissioning should have to choose the best and safest cask and storage options, not the ones that will make the most money for them.

“How do you do that if it’s all your stuff, if Holtec is managing the decommissioning and buying their own casks and choosing to store at a Holtec-owned site in New Mexico?” asked Tauro.

Tauro is especially concerned about Holtec casks, since some of them malfunctioned at the decommissioned San Onofre nuclear plant in San Diego County, California, she said.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the problem was discovered Feb. 20 “during a mandatory pre-loading inspection of multipurpose canisters, the stainless-steel casks that hold the spent fuel.”

He said it involved a broken shim standoff bolt inside the cask. The loose bolt — about 4 inches long and 7/16th of an inch in diameter — was found in the bottom of one of the casks.

It was shipped back to Holtec, Sheehan said. Holtec inspected other canisters at its facility in Camden and found another with a broken standoff bolt.

On March 6, Southern California Edison, which owns San Onofre, halted its dry cask loading activities. The site subsequently resumed that work, using casks with a different approved shim design, Sheehan said.

Other plants that have casks with the same design are Vermont Yankee, Dresden, Grand Gulf, Hatch, Columbia, Watts Bar and Callaway.

“NRC staff, both in our regional offices and headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, closely monitored the actions being taken by plant owners and Holtec, the cask vendor, in response to the issue,” Sheehan said. “Holtec and the plant owners performed root-cause and extent-of-condition analyses. Those assessments determined that the heat flow inside the casks would not be adversely impacted by the problem. We are still reviewing the issue.”

The New Mexico storage facility is unlikely to become a reality, said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, since it would require moving high-level radioactive waste across the country.

“Years ago we called them ‘mobile Chernobyls,’” said Tittel of the idea of moving such waste by truck or train. His organization has also fought to close the plant for decades.

Tittel predicted opposition in New Mexico to siting the facility there, and opposition along any potential transportation routes, would doom the idea.

Tauro is also concerned about Holtec’s plans to subcontract the decommissioning work to Comprehensive Decommissioning International LLC, of Camden. CDI was formed earlier this year as a joint venture company of Holtec and SNC-Lavalin.

SNC-Lavalin has been charged with corruption, fraud and bribery in Canada, according to Canadian media reports.

“It’s extremely troubling because they are going to be handling a decommissioning fund of almost a billion dollars,” Tauro said. “This really points to the need absolutely for the independent oversight board. To lend this whole deal transparency and independence, and having people on that board who have absolutely nothing to gain.”

Once a privately held company is in charge of decommissioning, she said, transparency will be lost.

Sheehan said Vermont Yankee in Vernon, Vermont, and Oyster Creek are the only nuclear plants ever proposed to be sold for decommissioning.

However, in 2010, Exelon transferred the license for Zion Nuclear Power Station in Zion, Illinois, to EnergySolutions of Salt Lake City to do the decommissioning, and will take the license back after the work is done. In that case, Exelon continues to be responsible for the spent fuel.

Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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