SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY, NJ – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is coming to town. Manahawkin, that is. However, there’s a bit of a twist when it comes to the purpose for their meeting scheduled on October 3, 2019, at the Holiday Inn on Route 72. The public session starts at 6:00 pm and finishes at 9:00 pm.
According to the NRC’s meeting notice, the purpose of the get together is to assist “the staff in identifying best practices and lessons learned for establishment and operation of local community advisory boards (CABs) associated with power reactor decommissioning activities.”
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that the NRC plans to discuss best practices regarding CABs. After all, it’s a requirement of Section 108 of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA.) The idea is to identify what works when it comes to “establishing and operating local community advisory boards to foster communication and information exchange between a decommissioning licensee and the local community.”
If things go according to plan, the NRC meeting will go over how a board would be established for the decommissioning of Oyster Creek. This should include logical considerations, frequency of meetings, and the selection of members.
Here’s where it could get interesting. The NRC doesn’t require community action panels. And, it could be up to the company decommissioning the plant to do so.
According to Holtec spokesman and Site Vice President, Jeff Dostal, there’s no plan to appoint an advisory board. Dostal says that advisory boards in Vermont, Massachusetts, and California are not practical or efficient.
“The idea of an advisory board is basically to take the information and watch what’s going on at the site,” said Dostal, at the recent Stakeholder Forum. “They then voice opinions about what is going on.”
Dostal continued by saying the company would not stop the formation of an advisory board. However, Holtec doesn’t believe a CAB is required and won’t be funding one.
If someone else wants to start an advisory board, Dostal said the company will provide answers to questions. However, when he was asked about oversight, Dostal dismissed the idea that it was an advisory board’s charter to provide it.
“The oversight is the federal government, under the NRC, the DEP, and our internal quality assurance,” Dostal shared. “I am the oversight for Oyster Creek. I am responsible for everything that goes on.”
“You’re the fox in the hen house,” countered Barnegat resident Marianne Clemente.
Community Advisory Boards in Other Locations
Oyster Creek is the oldest nuclear plant in the process of decommissioning. Meanwhile, other states are dealing with similar issues.
In Massachusetts, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) serves in an advisory capacity with regards to the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. Their charter actually falls under state regulations.
While the NDCAP does not direct decommissioning of the site, they do more than just discuss issues. They also pass on their findings to the governor and other agencies. Additionally, the board serves as a conduit for giving information to the public.
That’s part of the problem as far as Dostal is concerned. He doesn’t find it acceptable to limit communications to a few select individuals. Instead, stakeholder forums allow larger groups of people to understand the process.
The State of Vermont has had a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) in place since Vermont Yankee sold to Entergy in 2002. Its funding comes from Vermont’s Department of Public Safety. Of the 19 representatives, six are citizen members.
These are just a couple of examples of advisory boards created in other locations. It’s unclear why Dostal thinks the CABs don’t work. However, it might have something to do with the disputes Holtec had with the Community Engagement Panel at the San Onofre’s nuclear plant in California. The Orange County Register published a report complete with a letter exchange between Holtec and the panel.
The list goes on as far as concerns across the country. A couple of month’s ago, the Office of the Inspector General released its audit of NRC’s transition process for decommissioning power reactors.
While the NRC’s transfer of oversight responsibilities was found to be effective, authorities said decommissioning practices needed to be improved. Safety and environmental concerns aren’t the only issues.
Those pushing for CABs also express fear that the process may involve costs beyond budgets. Would these subsequently get passed on to taxpayers?
Once again, the NRC says it doesn’t require community advisory boards. And, Holtec says it has no plans to fund a CAB. So, what happens next?
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at email@example.com.