Needs Work. Salem/Hope Creek has had troubled operation. (Photo courtesy of PSE&G Nuclear)
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Work on the 1,049-MW Hope Creek unit began this month. The two-unit, 2,212-MW Salem nuclear station will also be improved in the program. Both plants share a site on the lower Delaware River, in Salem County, N.J.

The Salem units, owned by PSEG Nuclear and Exelon Corp., are pressurized-water reactors that started commercial operation in 1977 and 1981, respectively. Hope Creek, owned by PSEGN, is a boiling-water reactor that came online in 1986. PSEGN, the operator, in recent years has been criticized for an alleged tendency to put off maintenance work.

Next year, PSEGN will replace the reactor vessel heads on both of the Salem units. In 2008 it will replace the steam generator on Salem Unit 2. Unit 1's steam generator was replaced in the mid-1990s. PSEGN also plans to increase the total output of the Salem/Hope Creek complex by about 200 MW through a variety of unspecified measures. Hope Creek will receive a 125-MW increase in 2006. Salem Unit 2’s 15-MW increase will be tied to its new steam generator.

PSEGN will spend more than $160 million in 2005 on its overall effort to rehabilitate and improve the three plants, plus between $130 million and $140 million per year in 2006, 2007 and 2008, before ramping down to about $80 million in 2009. Exelon’s contribution will push the total over $800 million. The work will be done by "a combination of in-house resources, consultants and contractors," says a spokesman.

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The Oct. 10 rupture of an 8-in.-dia steam pipe in the Hope Creek plant’s turbine building led to the manual shutdown of the plant. Chris Bakken, PSEGN chief nuclear officer, says Hope Creek will remain offline and transition into a previously planned refueling outage that had been scheduled to begin Oct. 28. Before restarting Hope Creek in December, the utility will address the adequacy of operator response and "the significant equipment issues" the Oct. 10 event highlighted, says Bakken.

Among other things, PSEG is expected to make extensive improvements to the plant’s control-rod drive mechanisms, with which operators control the reactor. Plans also call for upgrading the plant’s troubled nuclear instrumentation system.

Next spring, PSEGN plans to begin a major rehabilitation of the circulating-water system, which "has been plagued with debris and silt that has clogged up the heat exchangers," says David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The work will continue into 2006.

he owners of three large nuclear units in New Jersey plan to spend more than $800 million over the next five years on engineering and construction to correct nagging problems at the facilities, upgrade the units, and improve their reliability and profitability.