LACEY TOWNSHIP, NJ - Earlier this week, it wasn’t just the inaudible microphone that frustrated locals who came out to the Oyster Creek Stakeholder Forum. They were there to learn about Holtec and CDI’s Decommissioning Program for the now-closed nuclear plant.
In one regard, the silence was overwhelming. Seemingly, the message presented by Holtec Vice President Jeff Dostal left more questions than answers. Not one person spoke up to voice their confidence in the site decommissioning plans.
“I was in the second row and could barely hear,” said Peg Houle, Barnegat Committeewoman candidate. “However, I’m almost convinced it was intentional.”
Last month, Congressman Andy Kim led a Town Hall on the decommissioning of Oyster Creek. Both state and local legislators joined him, as did representatives of Holtec International and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
At Kim’s Town Hall, Dostal pledged full transparency and accountability throughout the process. After all, it’s the reason he’s dead set against citizen advisory boards. He wants to make sure information gets out to everybody – rather than a select group.
Forum Had Its Share of Glitches
As attendees entered, they received instructions to put their questions on index cards. The forum wasn’t set up to call on anyone from the audience. In fact, Dostal planned on maintaining control with his single microphone for the entire presentation.
The meeting was scheduled from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm. At 6:20, a Holtec representative admitted they needed to set up more seats and would be starting late. Apparently, they didn't anticipate the sea of green shirts that took up more than a few rows in the audience.
Everyone sat quietly through Dostal’s half-hour presentation, which included the phased approach to the site’s decommissioning. One slide went through the associated risks starting from when the site was operational. Additionally, Holtec made sure to accentuate its continued commitment to local organizations.
Unions Express Safety Concerns
It was close to 7:00 pm when Dostal broke to take questions from a bunch of cards handed to him. The second question brought to light the reason the men in green took up a few rows of seats. Someone wanted to know why Local 9 Plumbers and Pipefitters weren’t on the list of tradesmen slated to participate in the decommissioning of Oyster Creek.
Dostal, who says he’s the ultimate “oversight” in managing the project said he didn’t know. However, he graciously shared his microphone and invited Robert Dill, Local 9 Business Agent to the front of the room. Dill was set with a prepared statement.
While commending Exelon, the plant’s prior owner, on its commitment to safety, Dill didn’t express the same sentiments about Holtec. “They plan on saving a few dollars per hour per hired worker by using misclassified workers unskilled in the pipefitting industry to remove the contaminated piping, “said Dill.
“The laborers’ typical duties include sweeping floors and digging ditches,” Dill continued. “A hiring error of this magnitude could potentially put the unskilled worker and the entire community in danger.”
Randall Davis of Local 9 has worked on and off at Oyster Creek for 15 years. He’s proud of his trade and concerned that laborers are currently taking short term crash courses in his work. “You’re worried about saving money,” Davis told Dostal. “This needs to be about safety.”
Workers from other unions expressed similar concerns about Holtec’s approach to hiring labor for the decommissioning process. “Holtec will be hiring union personnel for the work that needs to be done,” said Dostal. “If there is a requirement for a skill set or a specialty job, we will make sure the individual knows the trade.”
A Matter of Transparency and Accountability
Dostal attempted to keep the forum under control by returning to the handwritten cards presented to him. Someone asked about the storage of spent nuclear fuel.
“Kevin can answer that question,” said Dostal, as he nodded in the direction where Holtec and CDI had a display set up with brochures.
Dostal didn’t identify “Kevin” by last name or his role in the site decommissioning plan. He also denied requests to have Kevin come and answer the question to the group as a whole. Instead, Dostal suggested anyone who wanted the information could go over to the table and speak with Kevin.
That’s not to say that Dostal didn’t give any kind of answer. He referred to his presentation, which led to more questions about the thickness of the casks. Chants demanding that Kevin come to the microphone and provide answers were ignored.
No doubt there was a purpose in stating that questions would only be permitted from those written on cards. It was likely the same reason that there was only one microphone. When Dostal deterred from the plan, some weren’t happy.
“I wrote a question on the card, and he didn’t read it,” said Paul Dressler, of the Concerned Citizens for Lacey Coalition. He’s researched many aspects of the decommissioning process and the companies involved. Dressler said he and his group are extremely concerned about transparency and accountability.
In the end, Dostal said the public portion of the company’s website will contain all the questions and answers. At the very least, for the next presentation, Dostal promised to come back with a more audible means of exchanging questions and answers.
On October 3rd, the NRC is hosting a meeting at the Holiday Inn on Route 72 in Manahawkin. No doubt there will be more questions, and hopefully, answers that dispel some fears.
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.