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Asbury Park Press
BY NICK CLUNN
The state's top nuclear engineer, who has inspected the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant numerous times and has reviewed classified documents about its operation, says the Lacey plant should close after its operating license expires in two years.
The plant's obsolete design, its vulnerability to a 9/11-style attack, and the chaos that would ensue if the public near the plant had to evacuate from a radioactive release top Dennis Zannoni's list of reasons — even if they've been heard before.
Citizen activists and environmental groups have championed those concerns for years, but Zannoni is not your everyday renewal opponent.
In addition to his special clearances, Zannoni has 20 years of experience with the state Department of Environmental Protection and four-year degrees in nuclear engineering and mathematics from the University of Maryland.
Zannoni said he has also tracked the plant through a federal review it must pass to have its license renewed for an additional 20 years, though he was ordered to stop that work on Jan. 31 after being reassigned pending an investigation of a complaint against him.
The performance of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission during that review bolstered Zannoni's negative stance on the future of Oyster Creek.
But regulators say they've taken a serious look at the plant, and have placed dozens of conditions on the renewal — in the form of additional inspections and tests — if the renewal is approved.
Zannoni said his once-productive relationship with the NRC began to sour after the agency launched the renewal assessment two years ago.
Three months into the nearly three-year review, Zannoni called the NRC to complain about how some of its officials had " "berated" members of the public during a contentious renewal meeting at the Lacey Municipal Building.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said he would not comment on that accusation, but said that the agency expects its staff to treat members of the public with respect. If that does not happen, he said, citizens are encouraged to notify NRC management, or the agency's inspector general.
Zannoni said he complained again in May 2006 after the NRC barred two state nuclear engineers from participating in important meetings related to the plant's drywell liner, a steel radiation barrier that rusted and became thinner some 25 years ago.
State engineers, he said, were "specifically being excluded from all activity and documentation related to the drywell, which completely blew us away."
After receiving a telephone call from one of the state engineers who was barred from the meetings at Oyster Creek, Zannoni drove there from his office in Ewing to ask that his engineers be included.
Zannoni said NRC officials acknowledged they had made a mistake, and allowed the state engineers to participate, though several days of meetings had already passed.
They were included just in time for the inspection of the drywell, in which water was found where it wasn't supposed to be.
AmerGen had not checked several jugs meant to catch water leaking from an upper portion of the plant, as it had promised.
The NRC told AmerGen that the oversight raised doubts about AmerGen's ability to meet commitments, but said the water did not pose a safety threat.
Sheehan said the NRC would not comment on what Zannoni said about the drywell meetings.
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