The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked a federal appellate court to deny a petition by a coalition of citizen groups to re-examine the relicensing of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, in the wake of the nuclear mishaps in Japan.
"No safety, technical, or policy justification exists to single out particular reactors for different treatment, just because of their place in the licensing queue or status on judicial review," the NRC said in a brief filed recently.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in March directed NRC lawyers to provide more information about the "propriety" of re-licensing the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The NRC relicensed the then-40-year-old plant on April 8, 2009, to operate for another 20 years, over the objections of a coalition of citizen groups that fought the plant's re-licensing. Oyster Creek is the oldest nuclear plant in the United States.
The NRC brief cites the agency's "Defense in Depth" redundant defenses against unanticipated events.
"We have severe accident management guidelines, revisions to the emergency operating procedures and processes for dealing with large fires and explosions, regardless of the cause," according to the brief.
"Every reactor in the United States is designed for natural events based upon its specific location, with multiple fission barriers and a wide range of safety and redundant factors," the brief states.
The NRC will carefully gather and analyze data from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan to ensure safety at United States reactors as necessary to protect public health and safety in the United States, according to the brief.
"Our focus will always be on keeping plants and radioactive material in the country safe and secure," the brief states.
The NRC has been monitoring and analyzing events from the Japan plant and sent agency technical experts to Japan to provide support.
The citizens' coalition that fought the plant's relicensing for several years includes the New Jersey Environmental Federation, The New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group and Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety.
Coalition attorneys have until April 18 to respond to the NRC and Exelon submissions.
The Nuclear Information and Resource Service recently launched a campaign for the permanent shutdown of the 23 General Electric Mark I reactors currently operating in the United States, which includes Oyster Creek. The Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch, the New Jersey Sierra Club and Berkeley Township Mayor Jason J. Varano have also called for the plant's shutdown.
Exelon officials announced last Dec. 8 that Oyster Creek would close in 2019, 10 years before its latest license is due to expire.
Exelon President Chris Crane said then that "negative" economic conditions and changing environmental regulations were the reason for the earlier closure. The state Department of Environmental Protection has mandated that Exelon install cooling towers at the plant on Route 9 in Lacey Township as a condition of its draft water discharge permit.