LIMERICK, Pa. (CBS) — Officials at several nuclear plants in the Philadelphia area are now making decisions about the future of those plants, against the backdrop of a growing nuclear crisis in northern Japan.

Eastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey are home to 11 operating reactors-–a tenth of the nation’s 104 reactors-– spread across six sites: Limerick in Montgomery County, Peach Bottom in York County, Three Mile Island in Dauphin County, Susquehanna in Columbia County, Salem/Hope Creek in Salem County and Oyster Creek in Ocean County. Two additional reactors, an experimental unit at Peach Bottom and the damaged unit at Three Mile Island, have been shut down.

All of those reactors were initially awarded licenses to run for 40 years, with an option to extend that for 20 additional years.

The Salem and Hope Creek reactors are in the midst of the license renewal process, and expect to hear from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June. Limerick will begin the process at that time.

“For the past two years we’ve been putting together the application. It’s going to be thousands of pages long,” said Joe Szafran, a spokesman for Exelon who’s based at the Limerick plant. “After we submit in June, it will be another 18-24 months of the NRC auditing our inspections, doing their own inspections. It’s a very public process. It’s a very intensive process.”

The two reactors at Limerick went on line in the 1980s, and a license renewal would allow them to keep operating until nearly 2050.

Szafran says while the plants are aging, most of the equipment is not.

“We’re constantly upgrading this plant with new equipment,” he said. “Limerick produces almost 2200 megawatts of electricity; that’s enough to power over two million homes here in the Delaware Valley.”

Exelon’s plant at Oyster Creek, N.J. will likely be among the next in our region to shut down. The company has said it will close Oyster Creek by the end of 2019 instead of building cooling towers demanded by the state. Right now, the plant draws water from Barnegat Bay to cool its reactors, but environmentalists worry that has impacted the bay’s aquatic life.

Salem could become home to the region’s first new nuclear plant since Limerick. Last year, PSEG filed a permit with the NRC to begin the process of building a new reactor next to the existing plant in Lower Alloways Creek Township on the Delaware Bay.

“Though it is not a commitment to build, it would determine that the location we have identified for a potential new plant is suitable from a safety, environmental and emergency planning standpoint,” said PSEG Power President Bill Levis in a press release at the time.

But some anti-nuclear activists say Salem is clearly not safe.

“This plant sits on a mud pile,” said Frieda Berryhill. She lives across the bay in Wilmington and has fought the Salem nuclear plant since it was built. She says its location on Delaware Bay makes it vulnerable.

PSEG says the plant is designed to withstand flooding.

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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