Thursday, December 26, 2013

Demolition of Retired Nuclear Power Plants

Entergy, owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear-power station, agreed in August to shut the plant in 2015.  Under federal rules, plant operators that put their plants in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "SAFESTOR" program have 60 years to complete tear down and site restoration. Vermont Yankee opened in 1972 and was bought by Entergy in 2002. Entergy is exercising its legal right to take as many as 60 years to demolish the plant, located 5 miles south of Brattleboro, Vermont.

Vermont Yankee

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced a deal this week: Entergy agreed to begin the demolition as soon as possible and the state agreed to drop all legal action against the New Orleans-based utility company. The governor believes the agreement should make it possible to decommission in the 2020 time period, much shorter than 60 years.

The multipart agreement could serve as a template for other communities that are home to aging nuclear-power plants and facing a long goodbye.  The deal showed it was possible to address and balance the concerns of local residents, the company, regulators and other stakeholders.   Entergy will be allowed to run the plant, which now generates 70% of the electricity produced in Vermont, through 2014. In return, the company agreed to spend more than $20 million on tax payments, economic development and clean-energy projects in Vermont, and to set aside $25 million extra for site restoration.

In 2013, U.S. utilities announced plans to retire five reactors at four sites, joining 29 other reactors removed from service since 1964. Analysts expect more retirements in the next few years. A dozen of these reactors have been completely razed and the sites made safe, from a radiological standpoint. At least 38 reactors in 23 states—more than a third of the U.S. total—face headwinds that put them at risk of early retirement, according to an analysis by the Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment.

Mark Cooper, the author of the study, said the most vulnerable reactors included Clinton in Illinois; Davis-Besse in Ohio; FitzPatrick, Ginna, Indian Point and Nine Mile Point plants in New York; Fort Calhoun in Nebraska; Millstone in Connecticut; Oyster Creek in New Jersey; Palisades in Michigan; and Pilgrim in Massachusetts.

At least eight reactors are already in the 60-year decommissioning program administered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, awaiting eventual demolition, including Exelon Corporation's Dresden 1 reactor in Morris, Ill., and its Peach Bottom 1 reactor in Delta, Pa. Five other reactors are in the process of being torn down now, according to the NRC.

Two plants that shut down in 2013—the San Onofre plant in Southern California and the Crystal River plant in Florida—were sunk by costly repairs. Two others—Vermont Yankee and the Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin—were felled by regional power prices too low to allow the aging plants to run profitably.

The Kewaunee nuclear plant, which is 27 miles southeast of Green Bay, had lots of local support when it was the biggest employer in the county. But once it closed last spring, residents said they wanted the plant "taken down sooner, rather than later.

Each plant has its own cleanup fund, but while Kewaunee has enough money to tear down the plant, it possibly doesn't have enough to set up a depot to store spent fuel indefinitely. The federal government hasn't yet created a national waste depository. (WSJ, 12/25/2013)

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