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By Erin O'Neill August 9, 2011

Former Gov. Tom Kean says he built the last nuclear power plant in the state and the country

Former Gov. Tom Kean recently claimed he "built the last nuclear plant -- not only in the state, but in the country."

The remark, published in an Aug. 1 question-and-answer column in The Star-Ledger, was in response to the question: "Hearings began this week on Gov. Christie’s new energy plan, which includes a nuclear component. Realistically, do you think New Jersey would accept a new nuclear plant?"

Kean, a Republican, replied: "I built the last nuclear plant -- not only in the state, but in the country. It wasn’t easy politically, but Republicans and Democrats got together and acted for the future of the state. It’s almost impossible to rely totally on fossil fuels, as of now, there are not enough alternatives. If we want efficient, cheap, nonpolluting energy, we may have to accept a new plant."

But did Kean really build the last nuclear power plant in the state and the nation?

He’s right about New Jersey, but wrong about the country -- though it’s worth noting that during his tenure as governor, one of the last nuclear power plants of its kind to be built in the United States started commercial operations.

New Jersey is home to four nuclear power plants.

The Oyster Creek plant in Lacey Township in Ocean County is operated by Illinois-based Exelon Generation. PSEG Nuclear, a subsidiary of PSEG Power, operates the other three plants -- Salem 1, Salem 2 and the Hope Creek Generating Station, all of which are in the same complex in Lower Alloways Creek Township in Salem County.

Hope Creek and Oyster Creek are two of 23 boiling water reactors in the United States with General Electric Mark I containment systems --  similar to the ones at Japan’s ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which sparked a nuclear crisis after it sustained damage from a massive earthquake in March.  

Kean told PolitiFact New Jersey he was referring to Hope Creek and said he was basing his statement on a conversation he had with an expert at a nuclear conference he recently attended. But data from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows -- and a spokesman for the agency confirmed -- that Hope Creek wasn’t the last nuclear plant built in the nation.

According to data from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a construction permit for Hope Creek was issued on Nov. 4, 1974.

Joe Delmar, spokesman for PSEG Nuclear, said actual "shovel in the ground" construction began in 1976. In July 1986 --  during the beginning of Kean’s second gubernatorial term -- an operating license was issued for the plant and commercial operations began there that December, according to the federal nuclear agency’s data.

Construction hasn’t started on any new nuclear power plants in New Jersey since -- though PSEG Power and PSEG Nuclear have submitted an application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review whether its Salem County site could support another nuclear power plant.

Now, let’s take a look at nuclear power plants throughout the country.

Because Kean took office in 1982, after construction had begun on Hope Creek, we’re only going to focus on nuclear power plants that started commercial operations after Hope Creek.

Of 104 nuclear power plants in operation in the U.S., 19 started operating commercially after Hope Creek, according to federal data.

The last reactor to start commercial operations in the United States is the Watts Bar nuclear plant in Tennessee in 1996.

Scott Burnell, spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates Watts Bar, has had a valid construction permit for a second reactor at the same location, and has applied for an operating license. The federal agency expects to have a final decision on that application next year, Burnell said.

Back to Kean’s statement.

The former governor said he "built the last nuclear plant -- not only in the state, but in the country."

Hope Creek was completed during Kean’s tenure and it is the last nuclear plant built in New Jersey. So he’s right there.

But, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Hope Creek isn’t the last nuclear power plant to be built in the United States.

Kean would be correct if he had said he built one of the last nuclear power plants of its kind in the United States. But he didn’t specify, so we rate the statement Half True.

To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

The Star-Ledger, Nuclear plant likely in N.J.’s future, Aug. 1, 2011

Interview with Tom Kean, former governor of New Jersey, Aug. 3, 2011

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Hope Creek Generating Station, Unit 1, accessed Aug. 2, 2011

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Commercial Nuclear Power Reactors, accessed Aug. 3, 2011

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Boiling Water Reactor Systems, accessed Aug. 4, 2011

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Fermi Unit 2, accessed Aug. 4, 2011

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, List of Power Reactor Units, accessed Aug. 3, 2011

Nuclear Energy Institute, General Statistical Information on U.S. Nuclear Power Plants, accessed Aug. 2, 2011

Nuclear Energy Institute, Report on BWR Mark I Containment, accessed Aug. 4, 2011

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Nuclear Reactor Characteristics and Operational History, accessed Aug. 2, 2011

U.S. Energy Information Administration, New Jersey Nuclear Profile, accessed Aug. 2, 2011

Exelon Generation, Oyster Creek Generating Station, access Aug. 2, 2011

Interviews with Scott Burnell, spokesman for the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Aug. 3 & 4, 2011

Interview with Joe Delmar, spokesman for PSEG Nuclear, Aug. 3, 2011

The Star-Ledger, New Salem County nuclear plant eyed in Christie's energy plans, June 8, 2011

The Star-Ledger, Nuclear regulators approve license renewals for two PSEG reactors in Salem County, June 30, 2011

The Star-Ledger, Japanese Fukushima Daiichi, N.J. Oyster Creek nuclear plants use same reactor design, March 15, 2011

Tokyo Electric Power Company, Plant Status of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, accessed Aug. 4, 2011

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Former Gov. Tom Kean says he built the last nuclear power plant in the state and the country

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