LACEY – To the east of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, the muck from the bottom of the Forked River lies drying out.
It is the result of a project long desired by Forked River residents, one that reopens dangerously shallow waterways to boaters. But the project raised questions from state officials worried about radiation contained within portions of the riverbed.
The letter was a response from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Environmental Radiation, which questioned the disposal of dredge material on the property east of Route 9 known as Finninger Farm. The power plant’s parent company, Exelon, owns the property.
Finninger Farm is 600 acres of moist grassland that provides habitat for Barnegat Bay wildlife, but it also houses 180,000 cubic yards of riverbed dredged from the Forked River and Oyster Creek in 1978, 1984 and 1997, according to a 2001 plant safety evaluation. This dredged material is spread over more than 17 acres and contains trace amounts of radioactive Cobalt 60 and Cesium 137, both of which were released into the water by the plant, according to the evaluation.
Yet, the commission said the amount of radiation exposure is small – only 1 millirem, or less than the amount of radiation contained in a dental X-ray.
The radiation amounts contained in the dredge material “were below any public safety limits,” said Sheehan, the commission spokesman.
For comparison, the average person is exposed to about 360 millirems of radiation a year, or more for someone who has medical procedures, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The site’s radiation is so minimal, in fact, that it could be used for future farming or homes, Sheehan said.
The more pressing issue facing Forked River waterfront homeowners is whether the river’s lagoons will be navigable in the future. Homeowners, who say their property values are being damaged by the inability to use their docks and lagoons, have pressed elected and local officials for years to dredge these waterways. Boaters here had faced an obstacle course of shoals and shallow sand bars.
Last summer, the Department of Transportation provided some relief and dredged the Forked River and nearby Barnegat Bay channels at a cost of $2.5 million.
Read more at NRC: Forked River muck near Oyster Creek is not dangerously radioactive