The oldest US nuclear power plant, the 636MWe single unit Oyster Creek Generating Station in New Jersey, is to close ahead of schedule in October, company officials announced on 2 February.

Oyster Creek, a General Electric Type 2 boiling water reactor, had previously been set to close by December 2019. Owner Exelon Generation said it would work with state and local officials to plan for long-term decommissioning of the facility, which opened in 1969, adding that some of the plant's 500 employees will stay on to help with decommissioning. The revised schedule will help Exelon to manage resources better as fuel and maintenance costs continue to rise amid historically low power prices, the company said. Exelon president and chief nuclear officer Bryan Hanson said that the company would offer a position to every employee that wishes to stay on.

In 2010 Exelon agreed to close Oyster Creek in 2019, ten years earlier than its licence required after the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection withdrew demands that it should build one or more cooling towers to replace the current technology. This followed the department’s revision of rules on water use. In April 2009, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission had granted Oyster Creek a new 20-year licence, despite concerns by opponents related to corrosion to a metal enclosure that keeps super-heated radioactive steam within a containment building. Exelon applied a coating to the liner and removed a sand bed at the base of the reactor that was found to hold moisture, which had caused the corrosion.

In the mid-1990s, New Jersey began moving into competitive markets, hoping to lower power prices and Oyster Creek is part of a competitive wholesale market overseen by PJM Interconnection. However, it failed to clear the grid operator’s capacity auctions held in 2014 and 2015 for periods from 2017 to 2019. PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said once Exelon provides formal notice of a new planned retirement date, PJM “would conduct a re-analysis to determine any reliability impacts of the accelerated closure”. If any reliability concerns are identified, PJM could order upgrades to the transmission system to correct them.  

Announcing the planned early closure in 2010, Exelon CEO and president Chris Crane cited low market prices and demand, and the need for continuing significant capital expenditures, as well as environmental compliance costs based on evolving water-cooling regulatory requirements at both federal and state levels.

New Jersey’s two other nuclear plants at Hope Creek and Salem are owned by Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG).

Photo: Oyster Creek (Credit: Exelon)