-- Nuclear power will continue to play a major role in New Jersey's energy future for decades to come.
Federal regulators on Wednesday renewed the operating license for the Hope Creek nuclear plant in southern New Jersey for an additional 20 years.
The decision announced Wednesday by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission means Hope Creek, in Salem County, can now operate until 2046.
The NRC last month extended the licenses for the neighboring Salem 1 and Salem 2 reactors in Lower Alloways Creek Township. They are now licensed through 2036 and 2040 respectively.
All three reactors are operated by PSEG Nuclear at its Artificial Island complex in Lower Alloways Creek Township. The three plants produce enough electricity to power 3 million homes.
"The license renewal of Hope Creek, as well as Salem last month, ensures clean nuclear energy is available for New Jersey and the region for years to come," said Tom Joyce, president and chief nuclear officer of PSEG Nuclear. "With the support of our employees, we will build upon our strong operating history of providing safe, reliable energy and continue to play a major role in supporting our local community who has supported us all these years."
The state's other nuclear power plant, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey Township, is closing in 2019, 10 years earlier than planned under a deal with the state Department of Environmental Protection. In return for not requiring it to build costly cooling towers to prevent the deaths of millions of fish and tiny aquatic creatures, the state got the plant's operators, Chicago-based Exelon Corp., to agree to the early shutdown.
It began generating power in 1969 and is the oldest nuclear power plant in the nation.
In announcing the decision, the NRC said it had taken a close look at safety in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster earlier this year.
"The lessons being learned from events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have prompted a comprehensive NRC review of agency regulations and practices," the agency said in a statement. "The NRC will apply the recommendations from this review, as appropriate, for any changes deemed necessary to improve the safety of operating plants, regardless of whether the plants have been issued renewed operating licenses. Hope Creek, therefore, like all operating plants, will be subject to any rule or policy changes the NRC may make as a result of our post-Fukushima review."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the NRC should have paid closer attention to similarities between Hope Creek and the stricken Japanese reactors.
"The design of Hope Creek is the same as the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1," he said. "The plant has some of the same issues with above-ground storage of spent fuel rods as Fukushima. The plant was designed to withstand certain major weather events but we need to look at the potential impacts of more extreme events, especially as climate change alters sea level rise and flooding."
The three PSE&G reactors in Lower Alloways Creek Township employ a combined 1,500 people and generate 49 percent of New Jersey's electricity, spokesman Joe Delmar said.