LACEY TOWNSHIP, NJ – When Congressman Andy Kim assumed office earlier this year, he devised a plan to identify the most pressing issues within his district. In contacting state legislators serving the same constituency, Kim recognized the decommissioning of Oyster Creek nuclear plant as something of great concern.

It meant that Kim, a Democrat, needed to reach across the aisle in contacting New Jersey State Senator Christopher J. Connors, a Republican. As a former Lacey Township Mayor and Committeeman, Connors is well familiar with the nuclear plant and “lives within a shadow of its cooling tower.”

Last night, the seats were just about filled in the multipurpose room of Lacey Township Middle School. Concerned citizens and environmental activists came to listen and ask questions at the Town Hall set up by Kim regarding Oyster Creek.

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It was Connors who introduced Kim to the crowd, and said, “If there was ever a time that people had to come to work together on all levels of government, now is the time.”

Connors credited Kim with contacting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and looking for answers to questions and for his commitment to keeping residents informed.

“The process by which this decommissioning happens has to be transparent,” said Kim. “It has to have accountability and oversight with the best interests of the community in mind.”

Kim admitted that the shutting down of the nuclear plant “represented one of the more complicated problem sets in the country.” He said he understood people’s fears about health, safety, and environmental issues.

In early July 2019, Holtec International completed its ownership transfer and acquisition of the Oyster Creek facility from Exelon Generation. At the end of that same month, Comprehensive Decommissioning International (CDI), a joint venture between Holtec International and SNC-Lavalin announced the award of their first commercial contract to decommission Oyster Creek.

Meanwhile, it seems those in charge already know their way around the nuclear plant. Jeffrey Dostal represented Holetec at Kim’s Town Hall. His LinkedIn profile says his title is Site Vice President, Oyster Creek NGS - at Holtec International. Before that, Dostal was the Plant Manager at Exelon. Dostal has worked at Oyster Creek for over 37 years and lives in Lacey.

James Trapp spoke on behalf of the NRC at the Town Hall. He indicated that the NRC has another meeting scheduled on October 3rd at the Manahawkin Holiday Inn to secure feedback from citizen advisory panels regarding the decommissioning process. It might come down to whether the panels should be required in the first place.

 “The NRC currently does not require the panels to be developed,” shared Trapp. “It’s the responsibility of those decommissioning the plant to put the committees together.”

Holtec’s Dostal said he wasn’t opposed to a citizen advisory panel, but also said he didn’t really see them working in other parts of the country like Diablo Canyon, Vermont Yankee and anywhere in Massachusetts.

 “They don’t have transparent communications and don’t make decisions,” explained Dostal. “With our stakeholder forum, we’re trying to get that information out to everybody and not just a panel.”

An Oyster Creek Stakeholder Information Forum is scheduled for September 23rd at the Lacey Township Middle School. Holtec International and CDI plan to provide information on the decommissioning program in both a Town Hall and Expo format.

In the meantime, Kim wants to check with other legislators around the nation facing similar problems to see how they’re approaching citizen advisory panels and whether they’re working. However, Lacey Mayor Timothy McDonald stressed the importance of ensuring the “concerns of Lacey Township are heard in a constructive matter.”

McDonald said the Township has a very good relationship with Holtec as it did with Exelon. “In looking at the other advisory committees throughout, they really don’t have that relationship.”

Kim’s Town Hall lasted for a couple of hours with some wondering how a decommissioning originally earmarked for sixty years could now be completed in 6-8 years. It seems nothing prevents a faster end date.

Several questioned Holtec itself, pointing out that it had no experience in decommissioning nuclear plants. Dostal shared that the company’s partner, SNC-Lavalin has performed many worldwide.

There were claims that the “fox was watching the hen house.” Janet Tauro, Board Chair of Clean Water Action asked about checks and balances. “Holtec is going to manage the decommissioning and the casks that will be used in the decommissioning,” she said. “Holtec would then like to transport all of that radioactive waste to a Holtec facility.”

Both the NRC and Holtec addressed concerns about the casks. Dostal referred people to the internet to see the vigorous testing that guarantees the casks would even sustain damage from missiles.

As it now stands, the first phase of the project involves moving spent fuel to an onsite storage facility. “That process would take place over 2020-2021 with a goal of all the spent fuel being in storage by November 2021,” said Kim.

 Demolition starts next with plans to find transportation to ultimately cart the radioactive materials off-site. Where they go and how they get there are still under consideration.  However, if all goes according to plan, Oyster Creek should be completely decommissioned by 2025.

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