Japan Revives Fears At N.J. Nuclear Plant One in five U.S. nuclear plants shares the same reactor design as the ill-fated Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. That includes Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey, the nation's oldest operating nuclear plant — which is already scheduled to close in 2019. The threat of a major earthquake or tsunami in the area is low. But critics of nuclear power warn that the cooling systems at Oyster Creek, and other nuclear plants in the region, could be vulnerable to flooding from a major hurricane.

Japan Revives Fears At N.J. Nuclear Plant

Japan Revives Fears At N.J. Nuclear Plant

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134633177/134633161" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

One in five U.S. nuclear plants shares the same reactor design as the ill-fated Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. That includes Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey, the nation's oldest operating nuclear plant — which is already scheduled to close in 2019. The threat of a major earthquake or tsunami in the area is low. But critics of nuclear power warn that the cooling systems at Oyster Creek, and other nuclear plants in the region, could be vulnerable to flooding from a major hurricane.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And NPR's Joel Rose reports that the crisis in Japan is reviving fears here, especially in New Jersey.

JOEL ROSE: The oldest operating nuclear power plant in the country is here in Forked River, New Jersey, about 80 miles from New York City. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station shares a basic design with the crippled Fukushima reactors in Japan. And local residents worry that it may share their weaknesses, too.

DAN CONTI: Scary, man. It's really scary.

ROSE: Dan Conti is ordering lunch at Dewery's Dogs, a food truck about a mile up the road from the Oyster Creek Plant.

CONTI: You know, it's something that we don't have any control over. You know, our lives are in the hands of other people. And whatever decisions they make to cool it down or whatever they have to do.

ROSE: But Jeff Tittel at the New Jersey Sierra Club thinks the storm surge from a major hurricane could be a big problem.

JEFF TITTEL: The dangers are always that if you get a blackout because of a hurricane coming in that knocks out the power to the plant, you could see a scenario where backup systems get knocked out.

ROSE: April Schilpp is a spokesperson for the company.

APRIL SCHILPP: Our plants are operating safely and our plant neighbors are safe. And our plants are equipped with all kinds of redundant safety systems that protect them against any of these threats.

ROSE: But then engineers at the Fukushima plants would have said the same. Like the crippled plants in Japan, Oyster Creek is a General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor. Scientists have been raising concerns about the basic design since the early 1970s.

MICHAEL MARIOTTE: This particular design cannot withstand accident conditions as well as other nuclear plants.

ROSE: Michael Mariotte directs the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear group. Marriotte says engineers at GE put a relatively small containment area around the nuclear reactor core. To compensate, they added a system to relieve the pressure.

MARIOTTE: The problem is the systems don't seem to work. And so what we've seen in Japan this week is that the hydrogen pressure built up and exploded and blew apart this outside containment building.

ROSE: Gregory Jaczko, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, testified at a Senate Committee hearing yesterday.

GREGORY JACZKO: We think we've made a lot of changes that will help improve the safety of this design. and And following 9/11, we also took steps to ensure that if we were to get to this kind of a severe condition, that we would have additional means to provide electrical power, to provide cooling. So we believe we have a good system and a good program in place.

ROSE: Many of Oyster Creek's neighbors would agree. Former township mayor, Brian Reid, is eating lunch at the Forked River Diner about a mile from the plant.

(SOUNDBITE OF DINER)

BRIAN REID: That power plant's from the backbone of this municipality for a number of years. And they've been a great neighbor and don't think we have to worry about anything like Japan with Oyster Creek. It's had a little - a few things wrong with it during its lifetime, but it's run very well.

ROSE: Joel Rose, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.