Court Wants Answers on NJ Nuke Plant Safety

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Exelon's Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey.

    A federal appeals court in Philadelphia is taking a closer look at a Lacey Township, N.J. nuclear plant, a move that comes amid a nuclear crisis in Japan and questions over the life-span of the country's oldest nuclear facility.

    The New Jersey Sierra Club has been challenging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to renew the license of Exelon Oyster Creek plant.

    In what one legal expert calls an "unusual move," the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals has written lawyers to the Nuclear Regulatory Committee asking "what impact, if any, the damages from the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have on the propriety of granting the license renewal application(for Oyster Creek)?"

    It does not happen often," former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero told NBC New York of the legal request.

    "Unusual, yes, unheard of, no," Verniero added while he explained "The Court is in a very transparent way making sure it is educated on this issue."

    The 42-year-old Oyster Creek is the oldest operating commercial nuclear reactor in the nation. It was brought into service in 1969.

    It recently had a leak of radioactive tritium into the groundwater and after environmentalists demanded Exelon install a cooling tower to prevent massive fish kills in Barnegat Bay, the company announced that as an alternative, it would cease operations in ten years, It had asked the NRC for 20 more years of operation.

    "I think the court understands we have serious problems with old power plants whether it is in Japan or at Oyster Creek," the Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel said in a statement.

    Neither the spokesmen for the NRC nor Exelon returned calls requesting comment. NRC lawyers have until April 4th to "advise the court" on Fukushima's impact.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY