Oyster Creek nuclear plant
Oyster Creek nuclear plant

The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station stopped sending power to the electric grid at noon Monday, after using nuclear energy to power about 600,000 homes annually for almost 50 years.

Oyster Creek’s closing was marked with an internal ceremony for workers, about 300 of whom will remain on site for at least the start of the decommissioning process.

At its height the nuclear plant employed 700, and about a year ago 400 worked there.

Its shutdown leaves New Jersey with just three nuclear reactors, at the Salem and Hope Creek complex in Salem County.

Exelon also held a public ceremony for officials, plant retirees and the media to mark the plant’s closing. It was held at its training center outside the most secure perimeter of the plant, which is protected by armed guards.

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The plant was the oldest operating nuclear plant in the U.S.

“I have lots of emotion,” said long-time employee Jeff Dostal. He will oversee decommissioning, whether the plant stays in the hands of current owner Exelon Generation or is sold, as Exelon has proposed, to Holtec International of Camden.

Decommissioning involves decontamination of the site, removal of buildings and infrastructure, and safe storage of highly radioactive spent fuel rods left over from decades of nuclear power generation.

Dostal has worked at the plant for 35 years, holding just about every job there, he said. He watched as the plant transformed the area from a sleepy Pine Barrens village to the bustling, 27,000-resident township it is today.

“My job right now is public safety for the site and for the township,” said Dostal, a 28-year resident of Lacey. “Whether it’s Exelon or Holtec, I will make sure it’s done safely.”

“It’s a sad day,” said Lacey Mayor Nicholas Juliano, adding he wishes the plant could remain open. But he said he’s hopeful that at least a part of the site will be used soon for another major business purpose.

The plant had been paying about $2.3 million a year in property taxes, but that amount is likely to go down now, as the value of the property may decline.

But the township will continue to receive $11 million a year in Energy Tax Receipts, according to the state Department of Community Affairs.

“Energy Tax Receipts Aid is no longer tied to the value of utility property within a municipality,” department spokeswoman Tammori Petti has said. “Instead, it is based on what a municipality received in the prior year. Therefore, the closure of Oyster Creek nuclear plant will have no impact on Energy Tax Receipts payments for Lacey Township.”

The plant will be missed in many ways, said Mike Roche, a former site vice president at the plant whose career there spanned from 1974 to his retirement in 2001.

“The community has been a very strong supporter,” Roche said. “The Wall Street Journal back in the 70’s had an article titled, ‘This town loves its nuclear plant,’ and it’s true today.”

Oyster Creek began commercial operation on Dec. 23, 1969, and since then has produced about 200 million megawatts of carbon-free electricity, according to Exelon. It has pumped about $3 billion into the local economy, in wages, taxes, charitable contributions and local purchasing, the company estimated.

Its closing was a result of an agreement with the state, to avoid having to build cooling towers to protect marine life in the Barnegat Bay area.

The state required it to close by December 2019, and company officials have said it made economic sense to close this year.

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