MANAHAWKIN, NJ – Bruce Watson, NRC Reactor Decommissioning Branch Chief, has done his fair share of meetings related to the decommissioning of nuclear plants.  Prior to the most recent one related to Oyster Creek, Watson conversationally relayed some interesting information to some local residents.

According to Watson, residents across the country don’t all necessarily feel there's a need for citizen advisory boards in the decommissioning process. However, that’s not the case in Southern Ocean County. Many of the same faces from related meetings appeared at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s hearing on Thursday evening. And, they absolutely want a Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) mandated by the federal government.

At the direction of Congress, the NRC scheduled the meeting to discuss the best practices of CABs.  However, many of the attendees misunderstood the focus. They said that Holtec and CDI company representative Jeff Dostal left them with a different impression at last month’s Stakeholder’s Forum. They showed up hoping for answers to questions they felt the company failed to address.

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Despite, the hearing’s advertised intent, Watson allowed inquiries on other issues and did his best to address them.  Two NRC Reactor Decommissioning Project Managers, Zahira Cruz and Ted Smith, diligently took notes with Watson during the course of the meeting. By the conclusion of the hearing, Watson succinctly summed up the information presented in support of the formation of a Citizen Advisory Board for the decommissioning of Oyster Creek.

“It’s disappointing that the NRC does not mandate the decommissioning agent to have CABs,” said Ron Martyn, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Lacey Coalition.

In referencing last week’s Stakeholder’s Forum hosted by Holtec and CDI, Martyn felt the company representative answered questions about the CAB in a condescending and arrogant manner.  “Dostal told us they didn’t need one and they didn’t want one,” he shared.

When asked about Dostal’s assertion that CABs were not working in other places in the country, Watson answered, “In listening to some of the comments from the public, they seem to be working pretty well to me.” Watson singled out how well the CAB participates in the decommissioning of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, ironically one of the places Dostal said the advisory board wasn’t effective.

Speaker after speaker asked for the NRC’s assistance, citing a lack of transparency on behalf of the decommissioning agent. However, it was Arthur Rone of Lacey who provided some compelling information in support of a CAB. Rone worked at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant for over thirty years. He was the Vice President of Engineering and was a Licensed Senior Reactor Operator.

“I come with a deep knowledge of the plant and its structures,” said Rone. “I also understand some of the risks associated with the decommissioning.”

From Rone’s perspective, the decommissioning process is being treated as a black box. He said it dates back to the start from the transfer of the license. Rone feels that a CAB would actually save Holtec money as a conduit to the community. “I’m a trusting person,” said Rone. “I just can’t figure out what it is they have to hide.”

As locals listened to Rone’s continued reasoning for the need for a CAB, someone voiced their opinion. It would make perfect sense for Rone to be one of the Board members. Attendees applauded to express their agreement.

With the exception of State Senator Menendez, both federal and state officials or someone from their offices were present at the hearing. However, more than a few people remarked on the lack of attendance by local government representatives. 

Most recently, Congressman Andy Kim and Governor Phil Murphy announced the formation of an oversight advisory in conjunction with the Oyster Creek Decommissioning Project. Reportedly, the Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel will be populated with government officials. A Citizen Advisory Board would be a separate entity.

Watson summed up the recommendations to bring back to Congress as a result of the hearing. Not only should CABs be mandated by law, but Holtec should be required to work with them. The NRC should act as a conduit for public information. Watson also acknowledged that he would relay concerns regarding the skill and training of the workers involved in the decommissioning.

In the end, Watson said he heard one other thing that he thought was very good, “Local citizens have diverse talents that could be of benefit to the community and Holtec in the decommissioning process.”

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at