Discover the Largest Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey (And What Lives Around It)

Written by Lev Baker
Updated: May 29, 2023
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Welcome to the world of nuclear energy, where the massive structures of nuclear power plants reign supreme. In New Jersey, one such structure towers over its surroundings, an imposing symbol of modernity and industrial progress. But as awe-inspiring as it is, this plant is more than just a technological marvel. It is also home to a diverse range of wildlife that thrives in its shadow. 

Let’s venture into the domain of the largest nuclear power facility in New Jersey and discover the fascinating creatures that call it home. From towering cooling towers to hidden habitats, this is a journey you won’t soon forget.

PSEG Salem Generating Station

The Salem nuclear power plant, also known as the PSEG Salem Generating Station, is a technological marvel that provides reliable and affordable electricity to the residents of New Jersey.

Situated in Lower Alloways Creek Township, Salem County, the Salem Generating Station comprises two pressurized water reactor nuclear power plants and is jointly owned by Constellation Energy and PSEG Nuclear LLC. With its status as the largest nuclear power facility in the state, it holds a prominent position in the energy landscape.

With its advanced infrastructure and cutting-edge technology, the Salem Generating Station is a testament to human ingenuity and the power of scientific innovation.

Salem, which generates ample carbon-free electricity to power over 700,000 homes, is 43% owned by Constellation. Additionally, the facility incorporates an oil-fueled peaking unit that operates when demand surges. The majority ownership of Salem, standing at 57%, is held by PSEG.


The PSEG Salem generating station’s reactors were built and designed by Westinghouse. The plant commenced operations with Unit 1 in 1977, followed by Unit 2 in 1981, boasting a combined capacity of 2,275 MWe.

Following the renewal of its license in 2011, both units at the plant are authorized to continue operations. Unit 1 has been granted approval to run until August 13, 2036, while Unit 2 can continue operating until April 18, 2040, as per the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) endorsement. 

Construction of the plant began in 1968, and it came at a whopping cost of $4.283 billion in USD in 2007

Power Generation

The power generation capacity of the PSEG Salem generating station comes from two operational units with a combined capacity of 2327 MW, comprising one unit generating 1169 MW and the other producing 1158 MW.

The capacity factor for the year 2017 stood at an impressive 88.55%, while the lifetime capacity factor was 70.50%. In 2021, the plant produced an annual net output of 19,062 GWh, indicating its significant contribution to the power supply.

Safety Issues

During the 1990s, the Salem Generating Station encountered numerous maintenance issues, resulting in its closure for two years. These problems included a faulty generator that leaked, an unstable reactor control system, and workers’ concerns about possible retaliation for reporting issues.

However, after a thorough examination conducted by independent consultants and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the plant was deemed safe, despite minor concerns such as employee morale and insufficient regular maintenance.

In 2013, a minor radioactive water leak caused the plant to shut down temporarily. The leak was confined to the plant’s containment structure, and authorities assured the public that there was no danger. The plant was operational again within 48 hours. Following that, in May 2014, damaged bolts from a cooling pump were discovered in the reactor vessel during a scheduled refueling of Salem 2. Nonetheless, the plant resumed operations in July 2014 after the necessary repairs had been completed.

Usage Of Water

The PSEG Salem generating station knows how to keep its cool by relying on Delaware Bay as a water source to keep its two reactors from overheating. Thanks to a water-intake building equipped with a rotating screen, the station can filter out pesky debris. But sometimes, even the best defenses can fall short, as thick layers of debris can clog the screens, causing power output to plummet for weeks on end.

The station’s steam cycle may generate a whopping 2 gigawatts of waste heat, but that’s no sweat for the authorities. To prevent an increase in water temperature, they’ve set strict regulations during the summer months, allowing the temperature to rise no more than 1.8 °F, and 3.6 °F for the rest of the year.

It boasts a top-notch cooling system to keep the reactors operating at maximum efficiency.

The Human Population in the Area

The PSEG Salem Generating Station falls under the watchful eye of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has designated two distinct emergency planning zones to keep the public safe. The first zone, with a 10-mile radius, is known as the “plume exposure pathway zone.” This zone zeroes in on airborne radioactive contamination and the risk of inhalation, making sure that those in the area are not exposed to harmful radioactive particles.

The second zone, with a whopping radius of approximately 50 miles, is aptly named the “ingestion pathway zone.” This zone takes into account the risk of contamination through the consumption of contaminated food and fluids, ensuring that the public stays safe and healthy in the face of any potential nuclear hazards.

Based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Salem’s 10-mile radius had grown by 54.1 percent over the previous decade, totaling 52,091 residents. Similarly, the population within 50 miles had increased by 7.6 percent since 2000, with a total of 5,482,329 residents. Notably, the area within the 50-mile radius includes the bustling city of Philadelphia, located just 43 miles away from the power plant’s center.

Salem County is a relatively rural area with a population of approximately 65,046 people as of 2021. The station itself is located in Lower Alloways Creek Township, which has an estimated population of around 1,672 people. The nearest town, Salem City, has a population of just under 5,297 people as of 2021. It is situated approximately 12.3 miles from the power plant.

Wildlife Found Near PSEG Salem Generating Station

While it may seem like an unlikely place to find wildlife, the surrounding areas of this nuclear power plant are home to a diverse array of animal species that have adapted to coexist alongside this industrial powerhouse. Let’s take a closer look at some of the fascinating wildlife that can be found near the PSEG Salem Generating Station.

Northern Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin)

The coastal salt marshes and estuaries around the PSEG Salem generating station are home to a unique and fascinating species of turtle, the Northern diamondback terrapin. These charming turtles, native to New Jersey, are well-known for their exclusive residence in the brackish water, which is a combination of both salt and fresh water. They are a common sight on the shores of Delaware Bay.

Distinctive markings of concentric diamonds and grooves can be found on the top shells or carapaces of these aquatic turtles. Their carapaces come in shades of gray or brown, ranging from medium to almost black. Additionally, these turtles have skin ranging in color from pale gray to black, marked with unique dark spots, blotches, or stripes.

Their diet includes marine and tidal creatures such as fish, marine snails, crabs, mollusks, worms, carrion, and clams. In June and July, adults nest on the sandy borders of coastal salt marshes.

diamondback terrapin

The coastal salt marshes and estuaries around New Jersey’s largest nuclear power plant are home to northern diamondback terrapins.

©Jay Ondreicka/

Plover (Charadriinae)

The PSEG Salem Generating Station is situated in a region that is also home to many bird species, including the plover.

Plovers are a prominent group of shorebirds and one of the largest within the waders’ category. They have relatively shorter bills and legs yet can range from short to long-legged, and they feed by exhibiting a characteristic run-stop-tilt forward motion on areas of mud, open sand, shingle, short turf, or bare earth.

Plovers’ wings are distinguished by their pointed tips, while lapwings, often confused with plovers, have broad, rounded wings.

The Delaware Bay area, located along the Atlantic flyway, serves as a critical stopover location for many migratory shorebirds in North America. These birds, including plovers, arrive in late May after traveling from South America and utilize the area as a place to rest and feed.

During their stay, these migrating birds take advantage of the abundance of horseshoe crab eggs and submerged vegetation in the Delaware Bay area, allowing them to gain up to 50% of their body weight in fat.

Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

With a striking appearance, these snakes are commonly seen in various environments such as meadows, gardens, and forests. Common garter snakes are permanent residents of Salem county and often reside in areas close to water bodies.

These snakes have a distinct appearance, with three light stripes that typically run the length of their body on a background that may be black, brown, gray, or olive in color. These stripes come in a number of colors, including white, yellow, blue, greenish, or brown, depending on the species.

Common garter snakes have a diverse diet, primarily amphibians, earthworms, leeches, snails, insects, and slugs. They also consume small fish, crayfish, and even other snakes, making them an important predator in their ecosystem.

Garter snakes are non-venomous and not considered dangerous to humans. However, they can display aggression and may bite if provoked, which can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in humans.

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

Belonging to the Libellulidae family, the eastern amberwing is a small species of dragonfly that measures no more than an inch in length. The distinguishing feature of the males is their bright orange or amber wings, while both males and females possess a red pterostigma.

Interestingly, the eastern amberwing dragonfly is one of the few types of dragonflies that actively mimic a wasp to deter predators. The yellow and brown stripes present on its abdomen are intended to deceive predators into thinking that it is a wasp, helping to keep them at bay.

Eastern amberwings primarily feed on small insects, which they typically capture while in flight. Their preferred habitat includes permanent, still, or slowly moving bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and stream pools. However, they are not commonly found in bogs, which may not provide a suitable habitat for their survival.

Effects of Nuclear Power Plants on Wildlife

Over the years, people have raised concerns regarding nuclear power plants and their impact on wildlife, both wild and domestic. These plants are typically situated near water bodies for cooling purposes, which can negatively affect aquatic species in particular.

The discharge of cooling water from power plants can have adverse effects on aquatic life by altering water temperature, leading to the death of marine species and causing damage to their habitats. Furthermore, in order to produce nuclear energy, uranium mining must take place, which can result in the fragmentation and loss of habitats, as well as contamination of water with high levels of selenium, affecting the survival and reproduction of aquatic birds.

Nuclear power plants also pose a significant threat to the environment due to the potential for radioactive leaks. Even minimal exposure to nuclear materials can harm the feeding, breeding, and overall health of various wildlife species.

The PSEG Salem Generating Station is also located near water bodies, and while there is insufficient data available to determine how the power plant is affecting wildlife in the area, the discharge of cooling water may be affecting the water temperature, thus impacting animals.

Where is Lower Alloways Creek Township Located on a Map?

Lower Alloways Creek Township, located in Salem County, New Jersey, is a township with a population of 1,717 as recorded in the 2020 United States census, marking a decrease of 53 residents from the 2010 count of 1,770, and a decline of 81 from the 2000 census figure of 1,851.

Here is Lower Alloways Creek Township on a map:

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Eric Dale/

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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

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