America's oldest commercially operated nuclear power plant, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, located 50 miles east of Philadelphia in Forked River, New Jersey, is scheduled to retire on Monday, the Energy Information Administration said.
According to a statement posted on the agency's website on Friday, when Oyster Creek's initial 40-year license expired in 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted the plant a 20-year license renewal.
However, in 2010, an agreement was reached between Oyster Creek’s owner-operator Exelon and New Jersey state environmental regulators to retire the plant in 2019, the EIA said, adding the plant’s retirement was accelerated by more than a year to coincide with the plant's fuel and maintenance cycle.
"Among the factors affecting this decision were local water safety concerns and estimated costs of more than $800 million to install cooling towers to meet new environmental standards," the agency said.
According to the statement, the plant, which first came online on Dec. 1, 1969, is a 625-megawatt single-unit General Electric boiling water reactor, and generated 5.4 million megawatt hours of electricity, or almost twice as much as all of the solar photovoltaic systems in New Jersey in 2017.
Oyster Creek is one of four nuclear power reactors in New Jersey. The others are Salem Generating Station Units 1 and 2 and Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station Unit 1.
Nuclear power accounted for 45 percent of the state’s total electricity production in 2017, the EIA said, adding Oyster Creek alone represented 15 percent of the state's total installed nuclear capacity and about 7 percent of total electricity production.
According to the statement, Oyster Creek will be the sixth nuclear power plant to retire in the past five years. After Oyster Creek’s retirement, the U.S. will have 98 operating nuclear reactors at 59 plants. Twelve of these reactors, with a combined capacity of 11.7 gigawatts, are scheduled to retire within the next seven years.
"Economic factors have played a significant role in decisions to continue operating or to retire nuclear power plants, as increased competition from natural gas and renewables has made it increasingly difficult for nuclear generators to compete in electricity markets," the EIA noted.
According to the statement, when a nuclear plant retires, it stops producing electricity and enters into the decommissioning phase, which involves removing and safely storing spent nuclear fuel, decontaminating the plant to reduce residual radioactivity, dismantling plant structures, removing contaminated materials to disposal facilities, and then releasing the property for other uses once the NRC has determined the site is safe.
"According to Exelon, Oyster Creek will undergo a six-step decommissioning process. The typical decommissioning period for a nuclear power plant is about 60 years, so parts of the Oyster Creek plant structure could remain in place until 2075," the EIA concluded.
By Hale Turkes