Salem Nuclear Plant

The Salem Nuclear Power Plant is a two-unit nuclear power station located on an artificial island in Delaware Bay that is within the jurisdiction of Lower Alloways Creek Township, New Jersey. Its two Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactors each drive a General Electric 25kV power generation system for a combined capacity of 2275 MWe. Unit 1, which was commissioned in 1977 and is licensed until 2017, is capable of producing 1174 MW while Unit 2, which entered service in 1981 and is licensed until 2020, is capable of generating 1130 MW of electrical power.

Public Service Enterprise Group LLC, which operates the plant and co-owns it along with the Exelon Corporation, has applied to extend the licenses of both units by another 20 years. The plant currently generates approximately 18,827 GW-h a year and, combined with New Jersey’s other two nuclear reactors at the Exelon-owned Oyster Creek Generating Station and the PSEG-owned Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station, accounts for over half of the state’s power generation.

Both Units 1 and 2 draw cooling water from Delaware Bay via a water-intake building that utilizes a rotating screen to skim debris that can be purged later. Occasionally thick masses of grass are collected from the bay through the intakes, forcing the power generation units to run at reduced output for weeks afterwards. The waste heat produced by the two units’ steam cycle, which equates to about 2 gigawatts, is directly released into the bay. This causes a slight increase in water temperature that is limited by regulation to 1°C during the summer months and 2°C throughout the remainder of the year.

Though the Salem Nuclear Power Plant has never suffered a major incident or been involved in an event that threatened the release of radioactive particles, it was closed for a combined two years throughout the 1990s due to various problems such as unreliable reactor controls, generator leaks, and a climate that reportedly discourages workers from reporting problems. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission increased its monitoring of the plant in 2004 but, after conducting its own investigation and consulting with independent experts, declared the plant to be safe in spite of several minor maintenance and morale problems.

Another likely problem at the Salem Nuclear plant, along with many plants built around the same time, is the threat of asbestos-related disease.  Asbestos was once included in many construction and insulating materials to guard structures, equipment, and workers against extreme temperatures, but the material also proved to be highly hazardous.  Though, generally speaking, the longer the time of exposure, the higher the risk of disease, some people have contracted deadly illnesses after only a single instance of exposure.