Pennsville is a quiet South Jersey town in rural Salem County, just a stone’s throw from the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. On any given morning, a healthy stream of customers frequent area gas stations and convenience stores to fill their vehicles with gas and themselves with coffee. From here, many of these men and women set off for the 20 or so miles to PSEG Nuclear’s Salem and Hope Creek Generating Stations.
On most normal mornings, traffic is brisk heading to the plant. However, when one of the stations conducts a refueling outage, traffic swells exponentially.
All nuclear power plants have planned shut downs for maintenance and refueling. Nuclear energy facilities are unique among other power plants in their need to refuel just once every 18 to 24 months. These events tend to occur in the spring and fall when electricity demand is at its lowest.
This spring, Hope Creek is conducting its 21st refueling outage. It is a special time for Hope Creek because it is the first time in its 32-year operating history that the station has completed a “breaker-to-breaker” run. This means the station has been providing electricity nonstop since its last outage 18 months ago. As a result of that continuous operation, Hope Creek set a new generation record in 2017, when it produced 10.6 million megawatt-hours of electricity.
Refueling outages are all about teamwork. Before an outage even begins, an orchestrated assortment of activities takes place, typically beginning with tasks like erecting scaffolds, pre-staging equipment and hours of administrative work, including processing hundreds of additional personnel.
One of the critical activities at the start of an outage is the choreographed exercise of safely taking the plant offline. A refueling outage is more than simply flicking a switch. Highly-trained Nuclear Operations Professionals work methodically as a team to safely remove the station from the regional power grid. Then the team focuses on performing tasks to ensure the reactor is cooled down and remains cooled down during the duration of the outage.
In addition to replacing a third of the reactor’s secure, on-site fuel, the list of Hope Creek outage projects includes tests and inspections, maintenance activities and millions of dollars worth of capital equipment upgrades to help improve reliability and continued safe operations.
These refueling outage cycles signify more than just the replenishment of the materials and servicing of the equipment that enable Salem and Hope Creek to supply 40 percent of New Jersey’s electricity and produce more than 90 percent of New Jersey’s carbon-free electricity.
While Salem and Hope Creek employ 1,600 people, a refueling outage also means an additional 1,000 jobs for a several-week period. This is a boom to the local economy as these workers spend their money locally on housing, restaurants and other goods and services throughout the Salem County area.
With farms dotting its landscape, it’s often said that Salem County is the garden spot of the Garden State. But for local residents and the entire community, it’s the hustle and bustle of the nuclear plants’ refueling outages that help drive the local economy.
The DiMarco family has owned the Italian Kitchen near the plants for more than 30 years, and the outages are good for business.
“It’s our busy season and we get workers coming and going at the shift changes for both breakfast and dinner,” Gino DiMarco said. “It’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed so we love when it’s refueling outage season!”
Within a few short weeks, the refueling outage will be over and Hope Creek will return to service. Another refueling outage is scheduled for Salem Unit 2 in the fall.