“At any nuclear plant where there is a fuel pool, including Oyster Creek, but also the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant in Massachusetts and Indian Point in New York, there are three options for disposing of the water that had cooled the highly radioactive waste.
The wastewater can be filtered and chemically treated to reduce the radioactivity to federal limits. It … can then be drawn out gradually and released in a nearby waterway.
Dilution is not the solution for radioactive water waste at the Shore I Opinion
Published: Mar. 19, 2022, 12:36 p.m.
By Janet Tauro
The horrific image of Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant under attack from the Russians and on fire brings back the terror of Chernobyl, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island and the disaster at Fukushima, all while serving as a reminder that New Jersey has its own nuclear graveyard at the Jersey Shore.
And it’s time everyone wakes up to the fact that nuclear power is filthy, leaving behind radioactive waste that’s lethal for thousands of years. It is expensive, and contrary to industry public relations, not an answer to climate change, partly because the continuous mining and processing of uranium to keep the plant’s powered-produce greenhouse gases.
Over a million pounds of radioactive waste is stored in dry casks at the defunct Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Lacey Township. Over 4.4 million people live within a 50-mile radius of this nuclear graveyard, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s 2014 data.
Oyster Creek is being decommissioned by Florida-based Holtec International LLC, which has a troubling history of reported federal regulatory citations and fines and legal troubles with the state. New Jersey’s investigation dug up problems elsewhere, and its past partnership with the Canadian energy giant SNC Lavalin, which had faced federal corruption charges in that country.
Holtec had teamed with SNC Lavalin to decommission Oyster Creek, but the two companies have reportedly parted ways. Holtec had put together a complex corporate structure of limited liability at the time of its purchase of Oyster Creek in 2019.
Over 2,900 highly radioactive spent fuel rods at Oyster Creek have been removed from an elevated cooling pool of water and are now stored in onsite dry casks, according to the company’s May 2021 release stating that 33 Holtec casks have been filled with 89 spend fuel assemblies each. Yet a nagging question has arisen as to how to dispose of the gallons of radioactive wastewater that remains.
There should be no question that the answer must be arrived at through a transparent process that includes independent scientific analysis and robust public engagement.
At any nuclear plant where there is a fuel pool, including Oyster Creek, but also the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant in Massachusetts and Indian Point in New York, there are three options for disposing of the water that had cooled the highly radioactive waste.
The wastewater can be filtered and chemically treated to reduce the radioactivity to federal limits. It can then be drawn out gradually and released in a nearby waterway. At Oyster Creek, that would mean the waterway that bears its name and the Forked River, both flowing eventually to Barnegat Bay, a nationally designated estuary.
It was only 10 years ago that independent researchers warned that Barnegat Bay was dying from polluting runoff from overdevelopment, pesticides and fertilizers. On top of that, the Oyster Creek plant previously operated without cooling towers. Every day the plant drew over a billion gallons of water out of the bay to cool the reactor. After recirculating, the 1.4 billion gallons of superheated water was discharged into the bay releasing harmful chemicals and causing major ecosystem disruption and fish kills – a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
State officials then implemented a 10-point plan to save the bay, with various interventions including re-introducing shellfish, clams, and oysters to the bay.
The introduction of low-level radioactive wastewater no matter how well treated, but still radioactive will not sit well with those who treasure the bay; the fishers and boaters, swimmers, windsurfers, kite surfers, seafood lovers, and those who just enjoy a peaceful view.
Barnegat Bay is a unique estuary, which, by definition is a body of water with salt water and fresh water coming together, in that it has a variety of different habitats, including the barrier islands, eelgrass beds, tidal flats, salt marshes, and maritime forests.
Other alternatives would be to allow the water to evaporate for years, leaving behind a radioactive sludge or shipping to another state that accepts low-level nuclear waste.
The tourist season will soon begin at the Jersey Shore swelling Ocean County’s population to over 2 million. Tourism brings in over $7 million to the state’s coffers and our waterways should not be a dumping ground for radiated water. Dilution is never a solution to pollution under any circumstance.
Federal and state officials must engage the public in finding the best, but in the case of radioactive waste, the least bad, method of disposal. Future generations deserve our diligence.