The Oyster Creek Generating Station permanently ceased operation Sept. 17, 2018, leaving a 49-year legacy of safe, reliable, carbon-free electricity generation and service to the community. The site has now entered a new era—the safe decommissioning and dismantlement of its components, systems and buildings.
In July of 2019, Oyster Creek was purchased by Holtec International in a deal that allowed the site to enter immediate decommissioning. The move enables the decommissioning and site release decades sooner than previously anticipated. The shorter decommissioning period benefits the community by allowing the site to be repurposed.
Our Goals for Decommissioning Oyster Creek
Achieving excellence in the health and safety of personnel
Protecting the environment now and for future generations
Ensuring a safe, respectful and equal opportunity workplace
Demanding the highest level of individual and corporate integrity
Continually improving upon our robust quality assurance program
Employing financially sustainable business practices
Maintaining transparent and ongoing communication with stakeholders
Fulfilling our promise to be a trusted steward of legacy nuclear materials
Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants
Decommissioning is the process by which nuclear power plants are safely retired from service. The progression involves decontaminating the facility to reduce residual radioactivity, dismantling the structures, removing contaminated materials to appropriate disposal facilities and releasing the property for other uses. The owner remains accountable to the NRC until decommissioning has been completed and the agency has terminated its license.
Here’s a brief look at what will occur at Oyster Creek:
- The reactor was powered down on Sept. 17, 2018. This removed 650 megawatts of electricity from the regional grid.
- Oyster Creek’s fuel has been removed from the reactor vessel and placed in the spent fuel pool to cool.
- Following a short cooling time, nuclear fuel will be placed in robust, heavily shielded storage containers and transported to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) Facility, where it is guarded around the clock.
- Radioactive equipment and components are dismantled per an approved decommissioning plan.
- Contaminated components are dismantled, securely packaged and transported to a licensed off-site facility.
- The site is inspected by state and federal agencies to ensure the property has been returned to conditions outlined in the decommissioning plans. Both the State and Federal agencies will continue to monitor the site.
Our Decommissioning Team:
After Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Station ceased operations, many of the operations employees transferred into a decommissioning organization. Throughout the decommissioning lifecycle, many of the same employees will assist in the safe dismantlement of Oyster Creek. Here’s a look at what we will be doing.
Protecting the facility and the public:
A security force will safeguard the facility until all nuclear fuel has been removed from the site.
Engineers, technicians & craftworkers:
A highly qualified, skilled staff of experts will oversee and conduct the entire dismantlement process.
Using company employees and contracted experts, we will continue a strong environmental monitoring program through decommissioning.
Teams of qualified employees, both on and off-site, will be on-call all day, every day to work to protect the plant and the public in an unlikely emergency situation.
Overview of Decommissioning Process
- To decommission a nuclear power plant, the licensee must submit A Post‐Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR) to the NRC. This report provides a description of the planned decommissioning activities, a schedule for accomplishing them, and an estimate of the expected costs.
- The licensee has to reduce the residual radioactivity to levels that permit release of the property and termination of the facility’s operating license. The site must be decommissioned within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations.
- The decommissioning process involves removing the used nuclear fuel from the reactor; dismantling systems or components containing radioactive products (e.g. the reactor vessel); and cleaning up or dismantling contaminated materials from the facility.
- Contaminated materials can be disposed of in two ways: decontaminated on site or removed and shipped to a waste processing, storage or disposal facility.
(Companies can choose one or both options)
- SAFSTOR (Safe Storage) ‐ Plant is kept intact, all fuel is placed in spent fuel pool or dry storage casks and time is used as a decontaminating agent. Plant is then dismantled similar to DECON once radioactivity has decayed to lower levels.
- DECON (Decontamination) ‐ Contaminated equipment and materials are removed (used nuclear fuel rods and equipment account for over 99 percent of the plant’s radioactivity). Plant is then dismantled ‐ this phase can take five years or longer.
Terminating the NRC License, Releasing the Site
As the DECON phase nears completion, the company must submit a license termination plan to the NRC. This needs to occur within two years of the proposed license termination date. After the NRC receives the license termination plan, affected states, local communities and tribes may submit comments on the plan at a public meeting near the facility. The public also has the opportunity to request an adjudicatory hearing. Members of the public may observe any meeting the NRC holds with the company, unless the discussion involves proprietary, sensitive, safeguarded or classified information.
Once public concerns are addressed, the NRC will terminate the license if all work has followed the approved license termination plan and the final radiation survey shows that the site is suitable for release. Most plans envision releasing the site to the public for unrestricted use, meaning any residual radiation would be below NRC’s limits of 25 millirem per year. This completes the decommissioning process.
As stated in the PSDAR, Holtec plans to decommission Oyster Creek (with the exception of the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation) on an eight-year schedule to permit NRC partial site release.
Part of decommissioning is moving the spent nuclear fuel from storage in the spent fuel pool to the dry storage facility called an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (or ISFSI) which used to take five or more years after reactor shutdown. Holtec has dry storage systems, which allow the transfer to be safely completed in less than three years. The rest of the decommissioning activities can be safely started sooner and be performed more efficiently with the spent nuclear fuel on the ISFSI.
The used fuel is currently in the spent fuel pool and the existing Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI). This includes 2,430 fuel assemblies in the spent fuel pool and 2,074 fuel assemblies on the ISFSI pad. Holtec intends to move the remaining spent fuel from the pool into dry cask storage on the ISFSI pad, where it will be safely maintained and managed by Holtec until such time as the fuel is removed from site.
The fuel assemblies in the spent fuel pool will be moved into dry cask storage on the ISFSI pad beginning in January 2021 and will be completed by November 2021.
The federal government has the obligation to take receipt of used fuel located at nuclear stations across the industry. At this time, there is no clear timeline for that action. Holtec has submitted its license application to build a consolidated interim used fuel management facility in New Mexico. Oyster Creek’s used fuel could be relocated to this facility.
Holtec continues to explore all options for the safe and efficient removal of materials from the site including trucking and barging of waste. Once shipping decisions are finalized this will be shared with the local community. All shipping decisions will put safety first and would be done to minimize impact on the local community and environment.
The emergency planning zone was reduced to the site boundary. This allowance is determined based on careful review and consideration of scientific data related to the risks associated with a potential issue with the spent fuel pool. With the reactor no longer in operation, and the multiple defense in depth options to maintain adequate level in the spent fuel pool, the scientific basis for the reduction is warranted. The change was consistent with other decommissioning plants and was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The conditions that could prompt a radiological emergency at Oyster Creek are negligible now that it is not operating. Still, state, county, and local emergency organizations, in cooperation with Holtec International, have developed a Post-Shutdown Emergency Response Plan that would be enacted in a highly unlikely radiological event. This plan is still reviewed and drilled regularly by emergency response organizations and the Company, to ensure its efficacy and applicability. These plans are available through the state and Ocean County for the public to view.
As recently as 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused flooding in the Pine Barrens. Yet, flooding only reached 6 ft. above sea level. Oyster Creek’s spent fuel is very safely stored at 24 ft. above sea level.
Much of Oyster Creek’s Security plan, including the number of employed Security officers and staff is safeguarded information. However, we can say that Oyster Creek is and will always be protected by a full staff of highly trained, armed security officers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every nuclear power station’s Security plan is commensurate with its operational status, the number of employees and others on site, and the site’s actual footprint. The security plan can be altered as those factors change. Holtec has optimized its security plan for Oyster Creek to align with the station’s evolution from an operating facility to a decommissioning one. All security plans are reviewed and approved by the NRC before they are enacted.
NRC regulations for fire brigades also align with the station’s operational status, number of employees and facility combustible loading. As such, Holtec altered the fire brigade program for Oyster Creek. This plan was also approved by the NRC as well as our nuclear insurers, who oversee such matters.
These revisions are commensurate with the station’s operational status, risk level and overall footprint and do not compromise the health or safety of the public or our employees.
Oyster Creek will always have fire brigade members on site, ready to respond in the event of a fire. One responsible person at the station will always immediately assess a potential fire situation and extinguish the fire if possible. Should the incident require additional resources, a call for outside response would be made. In accordance with state, county, and local coordination plans the proper resources would be dispatched to address the incident. Station Security, Radiation Protection and a second incipient brigade member – a station employee — would be responsible for gearing up and escorting the outside fire company to the exact location of the fire. An incipient fire brigade is authorized by our regulators and our insurers.
Based off its Decommissioning Cost Estimate (DCE), Holtec is confident that sufficient funding is available to safely complete Oyster Creek’s decommissioning. Management and use of the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund (DTF) is regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Though the DTF is expected to continue to grow, NRC regulations only allow licensees to assume a conservative minimum two percent real rate of return which takes inflation and other cost increases into consideration. In addition, licensees are required to submit an annual report to the NRC on decommissioning costs. If the NRC believed the DTF was insufficient, they can impose restrictions if the balance were to be off significantly — the NRC could ask to stop work or require additional funding into the DTF before decommissioning work can proceed.
As the current owner of Oyster Creek, Holtec has assumed all responsibility for the site, including the agreement with the State of New Jersey associated with the Administrative Consent Order of 2018.
Yes, the state continues to have jurisdiction for activities on site and regularly monitors our performance as well as radiation levels at and around the station. They will do so until all of the fuel is removed from the property. State radiological experts have access to the station and perform inspections at any time they deem necessary. Holtec and New Jersey DEP representatives share a strong, transparent working relationship.
Keeping neighbors and stakeholders informed has always been a priority at Oyster Creek. That has not changed. Holtec has already hosted and will continue to hosts future Stakeholder Information Forums, to provide a regular stream of information regarding its plans for decommissioning.
Nothing prevents the local community from creating its own nuclear decommissioning advisory panel. Based off Oyster Creek’s interactions with stakeholders, Holtec will continue the long-standing practice of hosting Stakeholder Information Forums. In addition, the State of New Jersey has created the Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel to help monitor the decommissioning of the plant.
Holtec has no plans to dredge Barnegat Bay at this time.
Holtec’s decommissioning team has a National Labor Agreement (NLA) in place with the Operating Engineers of North America; and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; and the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. Working through these unions, local union halls near Oyster Creek have been identified to provide the necessary skilled labor needed to safely execute and complete decommissioning.
In early 2020, Holtec’s decommissioning team reached an agreement with construction and maintenance services company Williams Industrial Services Group to support the decommissioning of Oyster Creek as well as Pilgrim and other Holtec owned plants. Williams supplies supervision and craft labor for civil, electrical, and mechanical activities, demolition, and site remediation by working with local and regional unions to contract qualified workers for specific jobs.
Before working on site, these workers must successfully complete rigorous access training, satisfy all Fitness for Duty requirements, which includes drug and alcohol screening, and undergo a criminal background check. In order to remain working at the station, they must adhere to all of the rules and regulations set forth by Holtec and the NRC or face disciplinary actions up to immediate termination.
Holtec has no immediate plans for the site at this time. As decommissioning proceeds further along, Holtec looks forward to partnering with the local community about possible future uses.
To learn more about Oyster Creek decommissioning, visit www.oystercreekdecom.com.
HDI is Licensed Operator for Oyster Creek
Holtec Decommissioning International (HDI) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Holtec International headquartered at the Krishna P. Singh Technology Campus, Camden, NJ. HDI functions as the licensed operator for Holtec owned nuclear power plants. HDI provides the licensee oversight of the decommissioning work that is performed.