FORKED RIVER – Lacey Mayor Nick Juliano called it “a somber day” as officials from the township and Exelon Generation announced the final closure of the Oyster Creek Generating Station.
After 49 years in service, providing the residents of Lacey Township with power and carbon-free energy, the oldest operating commercial nuclear power facility closed its doors and took the reactor offline for the last time at noon on Sept. 17.
“For nearly half a century the men and women of Oyster Creek have been safely and reliably powering about 600,000 homes with carbon-free power,” said David Tillman, Director of Communications for Exelon. “The impact that [the workers] have had on the community is lasting…that impact, that legacy on the community will not fade.”
Tillman noted that this isn’t the end, but rather the start of a new chapter for Oyster Creek. With the end of the plant’s operations, employees will now spend the coming weeks working on defueling the reactor and moving the used fuel into safe storage. This work began the same day, shortly after turning off the reactor.
The long-term decommissioning process will start once this is done, said Tillman.
The final day of operations was characterized by a mixture of sadness and hope as officials expressed nostalgia over the Oyster Creek “family” that has worked together for the last half a century. They also shone a light of hope on the occasion, emphasizing that the legacy of the plant and its workers will live on even when the physical structures are no longer there.
“At noon today [Sept. 17] Oyster Creek Generating Station produced its final megawatt,” said Site Vice President Tim Moore. “It’s a somber day, and also a day of reflection for our employees…we celebrate the proud legacy of Oyster Creek and the thousands of employees who worked here and shared our commitment to safety and operational excellence for almost 50 years.
“Eventually these buildings will disappear, but the station’s legacy of safe, reliable operations, community involvement, and environmental stewardship will never fade,” added Moore.
Former Oyster Creek employee, Michael Roche, lamented that “it is a very sad day.” Roche began working for Oyster Creek in 1974 doing environment work until the mid-80s. He also worked on the cleanup of Three Mile Island. Although he retired from Oyster Creek in 2001, he noted that the plant’s closure will be a loss to the community.
“One of the things that wasn’t mentioned was that this plant operated in severe weather,” said Roche, emphasizing the endurance of Oyster Creek in more ways than one.
In its lifetime, Oyster Creek produced nearly 200 million megawatts of carbon-free electricity while emitting virtually no greenhouse gas emissions, with an economic impact reaching over $3 billion through wages, taxes, purchasing, etc.
Not only this, but Oyster Creek has reinvested approximately $20 million back into the community through nonprofit organizations, like the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
However, with the closure of the plant, the approximately 600,000 homes it has served will also lose it as a source of power for their electricity. Tillman explained PJM Interconnection will be working with the township to ensure that residents will continue to have electric once Oyster Creek is no more. PJM Interconnection is “a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia,” according to their website.
While 300 of Oyster Creek’s approximate 400 employees will continue to be employed by the plant for decommissioning purposes, not all will be staying. Exelon stated that some will be moving to other Exelon facilities for work, and some will be forced to retire or pursue opportunities outside of Exelon.
The need for employees will decrease over time, said Tillman. When it comes to security, Exelon plans to maintain its current security force but “this will be scaled down over time,” he added.
“To the employees of Exelon and this plant: God bless you,” said Mayor Juliano. “The partnership that we’ve grown…it’s like a family.
When I got that phone call that morning, my main concern…was employees,” he added.
“Although we are sad to see this icon of the community cease operations, we look forward to a continued strong relationship with those at the facility as it enters into decommissioning,” said Committeeman Gary Quinn.
Those employees who stay to work on the decommissioning process will do so under the potential new owner of the plant, Holtec International. Exelon announced back in July the “conditional sale” of Oyster Creek to Holtec.
“We are very optimistic that that deal will close…in roughly one year,” said Tillman.
Holtec plans to speed the decommissioning process up tremendously, from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approved 60-year plan to just 8 years.
While the closing of the plant was referred to as a “somber event” by many, it was also considered inevitable. Tillman noted that it comes down to that fact that it is much cheaper to run a gas plant than a nuclear plant, which was one of the major factors in the ultimate decision to close Oyster Creek for good.