NRC Nears Decision on PSEG ESP for Salem/Hope Creek

Public Service Gas & Electric (PSEG) is closing in on an Early Site Permit (ESP) for a future nuclear reactor development at its site on the Delaware River in southwestern New Jersey. An NRC decision on the ESP is expected by early 2016. In June the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards said the ESP should be issued to the utility.

The ESP includes a Site Safety Analysis Report to address impacts of the environment on the plant, including hurricanes and earthquakes. Also, it covers an Emergency Plan consistent with existing plants.

The current Salem/Hope Creek complex is the second largest nuclear site in the US. It is composed of three reactors providing 3.6 Gwe of electrical power or enough power to support 3.6 million homes.

Each unit licensed for 60 years and license renewal has been completed for all three.
* Salem Unit 1 (PWR, 1180MW) – August 2036
* Salem Unit 2 (PWR, 1175MW) – April 2040
* Hope Creek (BWR, 1219MW) – April 2046

As is the case with most ESPs, the utility has not selected a reactor vendor. However, the utility disclosed in briefing slides released in June that it is thinking big. The slides refer to two Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000 units and other reactor designs of equivalent size.

The process of developing the ESP has taken almost six years. The NRC is expected to issue a final environmental impact statement and safety evaluation report this September.  A full hearing with the Atomic Safety Licensing Board could lead to a decision by the NRC to issue the ESP early in 2016.

Once issued an ESP is usually good for as long as 20 years so long as the utility doesn’t change the basic assumptions about it or the site.  PSEG, under the prudent investor principle, has not committed to building one or more new reactors at Salem. However, having the ESP in place will speed up the NRC’s COL application review process should it choose to proceed with new units at a future date.

pseg esp schedule

Schedule for PSEG Early Site Permit. Source:

Green groups thwarted in efforts to burden Salem reactors with cooling towers

The State of New Jersey has rejected a major push by the Sierra Club to force PSEG to spend over a billion dollars to build cooling towers for its two PWRs at the Salem site located on the banks of the Delaware River.  The draft water quality permits for the plants, issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in June, do not require the cooling towers.

While there will be a hearing on the permits, it seems likely the DEP is committed to allowing PSEG to continue to operate their open loop cooling systems which draw water from the river.  When both units are operating at full power, they cycle millions of gallons of water through the plants and return it to the river. It is not a consumptive use of water.

Green groups have tried to force the plants to adopt closed loop systems that would use far less water and which they say would be less harmful to fish and other aquatic wildlife.  However, PSEG has demonstrated to DEP that the technology it uses in its water intakes has reduced mortality of aquatic wildlife by 88 percent.


The effort by green groups really isn’t so much about protecting fish as it is an effort that is trying to impose financially ruinous permit conditions on the two reactors that would cause the utility to shut them down.  As of now, it appears that reason has prevailed with the regulatory agency in New Jersey in charge of the permits.

Separately, the Hope Creek plant has a cooling tower and uses much less water in its closed loop systems. Green groups did not challenge the water quality permit for that plant.

A similar battle over cooling towers for Exelon’s Oyster Creek plant on New Jersey’s Atlantic coastline ended in an agreement with the state to close the reactor ten years earlier than its permit provides.

In New York the Riverkeeper organization, a well-heeled green group with close ties to Gov Andrew Cuomo, is pushing to impose cooling towers on Entergy’s twin reactors at Indian Point (2,200 MW) on the Hudson River.  That effort has also focused on the water quality permit for the plants. The NRC requires that the plants get the permits in order to extend their licenses for another 20 years.  For the time being, the plants are operating under their current licenses.

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