The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates the operation of the nation’s nuclear power plants, gathers comment as part of its application review.
“The NRC process works better when a broad group of interested stakeholders provides information to the agency,” said Gregory Hatchett of the NRC.
The review of the Early Site Permit application, which was filed by PSEG Nuclear on May 25, takes about 30 months.
It takes two parallel tracks. One is a safety review and the other an environmental review.
The safety review is handled by the NRC and does not include a request for public comment. The environmental review does seek public input such as what was offered Thursday. The environmental review not only focuses on land, air, water and wildlife, but includes the socioeconomic impact on a community that hosts a nuclear plant.
In two sessions at Salem Community College — one in the afternoon and one in the evening — nearly 30 people spoke and the majority offered strong support for PSEG Nuclear moving ahead with adding a fourth — and possibly a fifth — reactor at its generating complex on Artificial Island in Lower Alloways Creek Township.
PSEG Nuclear already operates the Salem 1, Salem 2 and Hope Creek units there. They comprise the second largest commercial nuclear complex in the U.S.
“I think it’s important for you to know that Public Service is a very good neighbor to us,” Mayor Ellen Pompper of LAC told the NRC representatives.
She noted that no resident in the township has voiced any objections about the possibility of a new reactor being built.
Pompper said PSEG Nuclear has a good record of communication with the township.
Construction of a new reactor would mean jobs and a a positive economic spin-off in Salem County where the jobless rate is now above 10 percent.
“Any growth would only help our situation,” said Brian Duffy, chairman of the Salem County Chamber of Commerce. “PSEG has proven itself to be a great partner and neighbor.”
It has been estimated that if a new reactor were built it could provide up to 4,000 construction jobs at its peak and when finished provide about 600 permanent jobs.
The cost of a new reactor varies widely, but most estimates range between $10 and $15 billion.
PSEG Nuclear is already Salem County’s largest employer with more than 1,500 workers.
“We operate our plants within a culture of safety and transparency,” said Tom Joyce, president and chief nuclear officer for PSEG Nuclear. “We encourage our employees to raise issues and to be open on how we can do things better. There are always lessons to be learned. Our success is made possible by our employees.
“There are no surprises. Not in our operations and certainly not with our stakeholders. There is no new nuclear, without good old nuclear.”
Representatives from environmental groups, business leaders and public officials were among those who spoke Thursday afternoon and evening offering support.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney called for construction to move ahead. Mannington Mills Inc. Chairman of the Board Keith Campbell also offered a strong endorsement to the PSEG proposal.
The Salem County Board of Chosen Freeholders has officially gone on record backing PSEG’s Early Site Permit application and possible expansion at the Island.
Questioning the permit application was Matt Blake of the American Littoral Society who was speaking on behalf of a coalition of groups. Blake told the NRC panel he questioned a plan involving PSEG Nuclear and the Army Corps of Engineers for the swap of 84 acres of land at the Island to make room for the new reactor.
Also, one speaker raised questions about water permits needed for the plants.
If the Early Site Permit is approved by the NRC, that is only one of many OKs from the state and federal government the utility would need before ground could be broken at the Island.
The utility would also be able to “bank” the application for up to 20 years if it is approved. That way, the utility could decide when the time is right to build — if it decides to move ahead. PSEG Nuclear has not yet committed to building a new reactor.
Also, depending on what design the utility might choose, either one or possibly two reactors could be built.
Once a draft environmental impact statement and the safety review are completed on the application another public hearing will be held.
Public comment on the Early Site Permit application will be accepted in writing by the NRC through Dec. 14.