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Corrosion-Plagued Nuclear Power Plant Shuttered

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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New Jersey’s Oyster Creek Generating Station, the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the United States, was shut down yesterday (Sept. 17) and will now go through the decommissioning process, leaving 98 active nuclear generating facilities in the country.

Oyster Creek
Kyleandmelissa22, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

New Jersey's Oyster Creek Generating Station was shut down for the last time yesterday and will now go through decommissioning.

Oyster Creek, in Lacey Township near the Atlantic Ocean north of Atlantic City, went online Dec. 1, 1969, and is considered to be the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the country because the Nine Mile Point plant in New York, which began operation the same day, was licensed later. (The first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S. was in Shippingport, Pennsylvania; it was commissioned in 1958 but decommissioned in 1989.)

Decades of Corrosion Concerns

Oyster Creek, owned by Exelon, faced opposition when its operating license was up for renewal in 2009, in part because it was unknown whether parts had been built for a 40-year design life, and in part because in the late 1980s and again in 2006, corrosion was found on the steel drywell containment shell at the plant.

In NACE International’s Corrosion journal in 2013, Carnegie Mellon University engineer Barry Gordon wrote that corrosion cracking in the steel containment was likely caused by a combination of factors, including the backfilling of moist sand, likely contaminated with salts, as part of the “sand cushion” around the structure. The sand cushion was removed after the corrosion was first found, an elastomer seal was installed to prevent moisture intrusion between the steel shell and concrete around it, and the steel was coated with an epoxy system for its protection.

While the operators—GPU, then AmerGen, which bought the plant in 1999 and was later itself acquired by Exelon—claimed after that point that no further corrosion was taking place in the sand bed area, a subsequent report from Sandia National Laboratory noted that later inspections did find evidence of more.

Oyster Creek 1971
Department of Energy, via Wikimedia Commons

The plant, shown here in a photo dated 1971, went online in 1969.

Opponents of the station’s license renewal argued that in the 1990s, the facility’s owners—GPU, and then AmerGen—relied on faulty ultrasonic thickness measurements of the steel containment walls, failing to question when, between 1994 and 1996, wall thickness appeared to increase without explanation. Those questioning the plant’s safety said the companies had used incorrect test results to claim no further corrosion was taking place after the sand was removed and coatings were applied in the early ’90s.

Shutdown Plans

The station’s license was renewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2009 but two years later Exelon informed the NRC it would cease operations at the plant by the end of 2019, 10 years before the new license would expire. Earlier this year, the company moved the sunset date up to October 2018, then September.

Exelon plans to use the “safe storage” approach to decommissioning, storing spent fuel in steel-reinforced concrete vaults onsite until a later point at which the Department of Energy removes it.

   

Tagged categories: Corrosion; NA; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); Power Plants; Quality Control

Comment from Jon Cavallo, (9/18/2018, 11:05 AM)

As a Professional Engineer who was personally involved in the "Decades of Corrosion Concerns" at Oyster Creek Generating Station and corrosion mitigation at many other commercial nuclear power stations across the world over the past 47 years, I am disappointed that Paint Square would write an article such as this one without reporting the results of the studies reported in the NACE paper prepared by Barry Gordon and the independent study prepared by Sandia National Laboratories for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Information including the Barry Gordon paper and Sandia National Laboratories closely reviewed and considered by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal organization responsible for licensing and regulation of US commercial nuclear power plants. The bottom line is that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on a continuing basis, reviewed the status of drywell corrosion at Oyster Creek and associated investigations and in-service monitoring activities and determined that Oyster Creek Generating Station is safe for continued operation. This Paint Square article fails to indicate that the decision by Exelon for early closure of Oyster Creek Generating Station was made based on operational economics and had little, if anything, to do with the "Decades of Corrosion Concerns reported in the Paint Square article. Sensationalism does not belong in objective technical publications such as Paint Square. Commercial nuclear power generation in the US continues to be extremely safe, reliable, and tightly regulated.


Comment from Scott Youngs, (9/18/2018, 7:39 PM)

Thank you Jon


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