Radioactive Leak at New Jersey Nuclear Plant with Recent License Extension


Salem Nuclear Reactor Unit 1 resumed operations Saturday after crews repaired a leak in the containment building that was discovered two days earlier.  The plant operator says about 4,800 gallons of radioactive water leaked out, and the water went through the plant’s drain system as designed. The entire system holds 90,000 gallons.

This was a quick fix compared to STP’s recent outages.  One from November 29, 2011 to April 24, 2012 and one from January 8, 2013 to April 22, 2013.  When outages last this long, it can have an affect on consumers pocketbooks.  These two outages cost just the City of Austin, TX, which owns a 16% portion of the nuclear plant, $27 million in replacement power costs, which the utility just passed along to consumers in the fuel charges.  That averaged out to $64 per customer since November 2011.

Could the cost to consumers of replacing old and deteriorating parts that have the plants down for long periods have been the deciding factor in retiring the San Onofre plant in California permanently.  What will be the fate of the aging nuclear plants across the country.

Workers have shut down unit 1 of the Salem Nuclear plant in New Jersey after a leak was detected in the containment building.  An initial investigation determined the leak is coming from packing on a pressurizer spray valve used in the reactor coolant system that was replaced during a refueling outage in that began in April of this year.

The NRC says the spill is confined to the plant’s containment building and there is no immediate threat to the public or workers.

Like the Salem Unit 1 nuclear power plant, the South Texas Power plant is a pressurized water reactor, which has also experienced unexpected outages following refueling and other scheduled maintenance over the last several years.  As these aging plants approach the end of their expected life cycle, we should expect to see more and more of these types of problems.

The two South Texas units were originally licensed in 1988 and 1989, and Salem unit 1’s original license was issued in 1976.  These original licenses were for 39 years. Salem unit 1 was granted a license renewal June 30, 2011 that allows the plant to continue to run through 2036.  South Texas recently applied for license renewals on both of their aging units.

Two months ago the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which also came online in the early 80s, permanently retired their two remaining units after both reactors had to be shut down in January 2012 due to premature wear found on over 3,000 tubes in replaced steam generators which were part of numerous upgrades in 2009 and 2010 designed to last 20 years.

While continued upgrades and repairs to these plants keep them running, at some point, as with San Onofre, there is a point of diminishing return as well as an increased likelihood of an accident that could expose the surrounding population to a radiation leak.  We should seriously question the wisdom of extending licenses for 30 to 40 year old plants another 25 years.