Gov. Chris Christie outlined his vision for New Jersey's energy future on Tuesday, leaving the door open for a new nuclear plant in the state to replace one that will shut down in eight years.
Christie said a new nuclear plant should be considered "an option" as a replacement for the 41-year-old Oyster Creek nuclear plant, whose owners reached a deal with the state to close it in 2019 _ a decade earlier than its license allows. Christie said he would need to see a specific plan for a new plant, however, before deciding whether to endorse such a move.
"I'm not going to jump-start the process, but I'm saying it's got to be considered an option," Christie said.
The most densely populated state has four nuclear reactors, including Oyster Creek, the nation's oldest. Two of the reactors, Oyster Creek in Ocean County and Hope Creek in Salem County, are similar in design to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan that were damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March.
Located about 60 miles east of Philadelphia and 75 miles south of New York City, Oyster Creek generates 636 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 600,000 homes a year, and provides 9 percent of New Jersey's electricity.
Besides planning for the loss of nuclear power, Christie's energy master plan also calls for expanding natural gas use, increased use of solar energy at the industrial and commercial levels, and energy-efficient upgrades to government buildings.
About 50 percent of all energy generated in New Jersey comes from nuclear power; 33 percent from natural gas; 10 percent from coal and less than 1 percent comes from oil. As of 2010, less than 3 percent of energy was produced using renewable sources, according to the state.
"The first step is to make our current use of energy more efficient," Christie said.
At the same time, Christie is also recommending a lower target for increasing the state's reliance on renewable energy sources over the next decade. Christie's plan calls for 22.5 percent of the state's energy to be renewable by 2021, compared to a 30 percent goal set by his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine.
The first-term Republican governor said his plan, compared to Corzine's, was not "pie in the sky, pandering to any constituency group."
Environmentalists were quick to criticize the plan, saying that Christie, who has quickly become a rising Republican star, was erasing New Jersey's long history of strong environmental protections to kowtow to conservatives.
"This is all part of his national agenda," said Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
"He's more concerned about the Koch brothers and tea party than the environment or economy in New Jersey," Tittel said, referring to the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch of energy giant Koch Industries who have been lobbying around the country against the pollution "cap-and-trade" program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Last month, Christie announced that New Jersey was dropping out of the Northeast's 10-state cap-and trade program, which he said was a failure at cutting pollution and a burden to taxpayers.
David Pringle with the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which endorsed Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial race, said the master plan "stinks."
"What he said today was pie in the sky, he endorsed 20 months ago," Pringle said.
The business community, however, was thrilled and fellow Republicans called the plan "realistic."
"We're happy that nuclear is included," said Michael Egenton with the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. "We want everything on the table."