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Category Archives: Decommissioning

NRC’s Materials and Waste Management Programs Coming Back Under One Roof

Chris Miller
Merge Coordinator and Director of Intergovernmental Liaison and Rulemaking

 

When Congress created the NRC in 1974, it established three specific offices within the agency. One of them was the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, or “NMSS” in NRC shorthand. This office was charged with regulating nuclear materials and the facilities associated with processing, transporting and handling them.

fuelcyclediagramThis charge was, and is, broad. The NRC’s materials and waste management programs cover facilities that use radioisotopes to diagnose and treat illnesses; devices such as radiography cameras and nuclear gauges; and decommissioning and environmental remediation. It also includes nuclear waste disposal and all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium recovery to enrichment to fuel manufacture to spent fuel storage and transportation.

And there’s more. The program also does environmental reviews and oversees 37 Agreement States, which have assumed regulatory authority over nuclear materials, and maintains relationships with states, local governments, federal agencies and Native American Tribal organizations.

As with all organizations, the NRC’s workload has ebbed and flowed in response to a multitude of factors. Over the years, NMSS went through several structural changes to address its workload changes. In 2006, NMSS was gearing up for an increase in licensing activity related to the processing, storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. At the same time, the Agreement State program was growing, requiring additional coordination with the states—a function then housed in a separate Office of State and Tribal Programs.

To meet these changes and ensure effectiveness, the NRC restructured NMSS. Some of its programs were moved, including the state and tribal programs, into the new Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs (FSME). NMSS retained fuel cycle facilities, high-level waste disposal, spent fuel storage, and radioactive material transportation. FSME was responsible for regulating industrial, commercial, and medical uses of radioactive materials and uranium recovery activities. It also handled the decommissioning of previously operating nuclear facilities and power plants.

The NRC’s materials and waste management workload has now shifted again. At the same time, the agency is exploring ways to reduce overhead costs and improve the ratio of staff to management.

So, NRC staff launched a working group last fall to review the organizational structure of the NRC’s materials and waste management programs. With the focus shifting to long-term waste storage and disposal strategies, and an increasing number of nuclear plants moving to decommissioning, the group recommended merging FSME’s programs back into NMSS.

NRC’s Commissioners approved that proposal last week, and the merger of the two offices will be effective October 5. We think this new structure will better enable us to meet future challenges. It will improve internal coordination, balance our workload and provide greater flexibility to respond to a dynamic environment.

Current work, functions and responsibilities at the staff level will be largely unchanged. The management structure will realign into fewer divisions, with fewer managers.

In their direction to the staff, the Commissioners asked for careful monitoring of the changes and a full review after one year. We fully expect these changes to improve our communications both inside and outside of the agency, and provide for greater efficiency and flexibility going forward.

A New Look at Reactor Decommissioning

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer
 

 Four nuclear power plants closed in 2013 and another is expected to shut down later this year. That puts decommissioning in the spotlight – so the NRC has produced a new video explaining how it’s done.

map_Decommissioning_8By way of background, the owners of Crystal River 3 in Florida, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, and San Onofre 2 and 3 in California already have taken the first steps toward decommissioning their plants. They’ve certified that they permanently ceased operations and removed the fuel from the reactors into their spent fuel pools. Their licenses no longer allow them to operate the reactors.

The owners of Vermont Yankee will do the same when that plant stops operating as scheduled late this year.

The companies then have up to two years to develop and submit decommissioning plans – called the post-shutdown decommissioning activities report, or PSDAR. The report includes a description and a schedule for decommissioning activities and their estimated cost. The report also includes a discussion of why any anticipated environmental impacts have already been reviewed in previous reports on the plant. Crystal River submitted its report last December.

Plant owners typically combine two decommissioning approaches: DECON, in which the plant is dismantled and the site cleaned up to the NRC’s specifications, and SAFSTOR, maintaining the plant as is for a period of time before final cleanup. Waiting allows the radioactivity at the site to decay, making cleanup easier. (A third approach, entombing the reactor in place, has never been used by NRC licensees.)

Two years before the license is to be terminated, the plant owner submits its License Termination Plan to the NRC. The NRC surveys the site to verify the cleanup has been successful before terminating the license (or amending it if spent fuel is still stored there).

We hope you’ll take a few minutes to view the new video. Even more information about the decommissioning process can be found on the NRC website.

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant – An Update on the 35th Anniversary

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 
The Three Mile Island Unit 2 Control Room bustles during the crisis in 1979. For more historical information, click on the photo to go to the NRC YouTube video about the accident.

The Three Mile Island Unit 2 Control Room bustles during the crisis in 1979. For more historical information, click on the photo to go to the NRC YouTube video about the accident.

Today marks 35 years since the accident at the Three Mile Island 2 nuclear power plant. As is the case every year, it represents another opportunity to reflect on the most significant nuclear power plant accident to ever occur in the U.S.

Perhaps less well known to the average citizen is where things stand in terms of the Middletown, Pa., site all these years later.

GPU Nuclear, which owned the plant at the time of the accident, removed the damaged fuel from the reactor and decontaminated the plant in ensuing years. Once the plant was placed in a safe, stable condition, it transitioned to what is known as “post-defueled monitored storage” — a change that was formally approved by the NRC in 1993.

Last year, the current owner, FirstEnergy, submitted a roadmap to the agency on its plans for eventual dismantling the plant. Those details were contained in a document called a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, or PSDAR.

In short, the plant will remain in storage until its neighboring reactor, Three Mile Island 1, permanently ceases operations, something currently expected to happen in 2034. Once that happens, decommissioning work on both units will be undertaken, but those efforts are projected to take many years.

NRC regulations allow up to 60 years for the completion of decommissioning activities for U.S. nuclear power plants.

A view of the TMI-2 control room, last year, with two NRC inspectors.

A view of the TMI-2 control room, last year, with two NRC inspectors.

Meanwhile, the NRC will continue to inspect TMI-2 at regular intervals. The focus of those reviews includes maintenance of the structures, management oversight, fire protection and plant support activities. The results of those inspections can be found in the NRC’s electronic documents system.

While another anniversary has arrived for TMI, the work on keeping close watch on the plant goes on, and will continue for many years to come.

SONGS Special Panel Disbands Now That Plant is Being Permanently Shuttered

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

The special NRC panel that was formed last January to oversee the agency’s evaluation of Southern California Edison Co.’s restart plan — and ultimately make a recommendation about whether to approve the restart of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Unit 2 reactor — has been disbanded now that the plant is being permanently shut down and no restart decision is needed.

sanoBut NRC involvement at San Onofre is far from over. The NRC will continue to ensure activities at the plant are conducted in a manner that protects public health and safety now that the plant is transitioning to decommissioning.

The SONGS panel was formed to ensure the root causes of problems with the plant’s steam generators were identified and corrected, and it helped coordinate all SONGS-related communications. This panel documented all of the agency’s major regulatory actions, and coordinated licensing and inspection activities. It also helped plan and conduct periodic public meetings.

Edison announced on June 7 it would permanently shut down Units 2 and 3. The NRC ended its review of the restart plan the same day. The company sent letters to the NRC on June 28 and July 22 certifying all fuel had been removed from both reactors. As a result, Edison is no longer authorized to reload fuel into the reactor vessels or operate the reactors.

Inspection activities have been transferred to the NRC’s Decommissioning Power Reactor Inspection Program. This will ensure spent fuel is being safely stored and all site decommissioning activities are performed safely. The NRC will maintain a resident inspector at the site for at least a year. The agency is also reviewing lessons learned from the SONGS steam generator failures for possible changes to its inspection program.

The NRC held a public meeting in Carlsbad, Calif., on Sept. 26, at which staff outlined the decommissioning process used for nuclear power plants. Edison has until mid-2015 to submit a decommissioning plan to the NRC, although the company has indicated it may submit a plan next summer. When this plan has been submitted, the NRC will sponsor another public meeting.

Additional information about the decommissioning process is available on the NRC web site.

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