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.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

15 thoughts on “A New Look at Reactor Decommissioning”

  1. I was asked to provide a clarification regarding approved casks at SONGS. The NRC approved a spent fuel storage system in 2005 for use with high burnup fuel at San Onofre. Our records show Southern California Edison has been using this system to store high burnup spent fuel since 2007.

    Maureen Conley

  2. It is a worst waste to not admit a mistake. Nuclear is a mistake. It was not atoms for peace. We all need to see and admit this now instead of traveling further and further down a road we all know is a one-way street to destruction. You don’t throw good money after bad. We need to chart a better future on a better road, not keep going down the wrong way.

  3. From what I understand, that same *High Burn-up Fuel* or MOX fuel is what is being used at the Saint Lucie Nuclear Plant in Florida owned by Florida Power & Light. This fuel has proven to be very-very dangerous which is why the San Onofre Nuclear Plant was shut down. The St Lucie plant needs to stop too!

  4. All of this nuclear material at each site needs to be put into those dry cask storage coffins… as soon as possible… no matter who foots the bill for the cost of doing so. This material must be safeguarded in every way possible from any emergency-type situation. It is the only thing that will protect the people!

  5. Dave McIntyre – Thanks – I believe that the NRC should use San Onofre NPP as it’s decommissioning test case since SONGS has literally just started the decommissioning process.

    This way the NRC can track it’s decommissioning and insure that it is not only compliant to all NRC regulations, there are no more surprises from the Utility and post all relevant decommissioning data to the web, which is especially important since the high burn-up fuel used at SONGS poses an additional challenge since no long term storage casks have be approved to date.

    I believe that if the NRC does this then its decommissioning process will be streamlined, which will benefit everyone.

  6. The May 2012 GAO report, GAO-12-258, (found here: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-258 ) made several recommendations regarding decommissioning funding oversight. The GAO recommended the NRC ensure reliability as part of the agency’s process of reevaluating its decommissioning funding formula, by defining what the agency means by the term “bulk” of funds needed for reactor decommissioning. This was subsequently discussed at length in a June 20, 2013, paper to the Commission, SECY-13-0066, found here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/secys/2013/2013-0066scy.pdf .

    The GAO had also recommended that NRC document procedures for verifying the accuracy of licensee Decommissioning Funding Status reports. The NRC agreed, and identified the need to revise decommissioning funding assurance review guidance for the agency’s financial analysis staff. That revision is currently in progress.

    The GAO also recommended that NRC continue to review fund balances in a way that is most efficient and effective for the agency. The NRC plans to continue reviewing fund balances reported by licensees against the records maintained by the fund trustees, whether at the licensee’s site or another location. The NRC will also consider incorporating the reviews into other routine visits to licensee offices. The NRC anticipates it will coordinate with licensees and the respective financial institutions, where the decommissioning trust fund records are kept, and will continue to review the fund balances in an effective manner.

    Finally, the GAO recommended that we consider reviewing a sample of the licensees’ investments to determine if licensees are complying with decommissioning investment standards and determine whether action should be taken to enforce these standards. Staff is currently considering alternative methods for reviewing licensee compliance with the regulations. We will report on this effort later this year.

    Dave McIntyre

  7. Thanks for the response, I think its a great idea to start dry casking everything in the country over 5 years old, think of the economic shot in the arm that would entail. Plus the workers from these 5 plants that are closing are mostly training in radiation hazards and they can transition to dry cask and then plant decomm. Makes way more sense than the expensive training for new people, and keep people off unemployment. And keeps them working in a field they probably like.

    I am not talking about SAFSTOR for several years….I am talking that letting them sit around in an area perfect for hookup of solar PV farms for 60 years is just wrong. None of these same companies who own nuke will exist in 60 years, so the parent company guarantee means naught. They will spin off profitiable divisions into the new energy paradigm like solar, and then the parent company left holding the nuke assets will simply go bankrupt. It is obvious it can only happen this way.

    And thanks for the nice blog, if the NRC wants to interact with real people, this is a good route. The moderation seems appropriate in type and extent. A frank discussion and debate with those who may have opposing views to nuclear will both sharpen your arguments and maybe even change your policies to what the People of the USA really want. We are sick and tired of what GE and Babcox and Wilcox want.

  8. Fukushima proved that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7!

    The US nuclear industry has dragged their feet making safety improvements and like the Japanese still believe that they not Nature are too powerful to fail!

    The real question is if they are wrong, for any reason, will the the people of the USA want to deal with it, since the Price-Anderson Act only pays up to $12 Billion, which is a drop in the bucket for something like a Fukushima-type accident which is a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster.

    I suggest that the Price-Anderson Act be modified so that its funds are increased to at least 1 Trillion dollars, that way there will be a realistic amount of money already set aside should something BAD occur or if decommissioning suffers “overruns” because of Utility and/or NRC short sighted planning.

    BTW: Has the NRC reviewed and responded to the GAO report that called them to task for not using good decommissioning estimates, which leave US (pun intended) hold the bag for all costs charged by the same utilities that created the problem in the first place? If the NRC has, then posting a link to it would be wonderful and if they have not, then how about an ETA for the response to the GAO?

  9. Jeff Walther – RE: “Songs and Crystal River need some repairs”

    For you to say it needs some repairs boggles the imagination

    San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station aka San☢ was an enormous engineering debacle that was a nuclear near miss (NNM) that would have affected 8-10 million people living in southern California!

    And before you or anyone else starts calling names, read the NRC AIT report and you will see that San☢ proved that more than one steam generator tube could fail at a time, causing a “cascade” of tube failures that could result in a loss of reactor core coolant, which is something that the NRC still refuses to take into consideration when considering reactor safety.

  10. SCE got permission to use **High Burn-up Fuel** at San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in CA without telling anyone about the expensive problems it would cause ratepayers (BTW the NRC does not even have an approved long term storage cask for high burn-up fuel yet). It is my opinion that this decision is ***the smoking gun which explains why the original steam generators had to be replaced which started this entire design debacle*** or said another way, if SCE had not gotten approval to update San Onofre’s reactors they would have still be in use today and ratepayers would have been mega-billions ahead, since they would not have had to pay for expensive replacements, since the NRC only is concerned with safety not maintenance costs which SCE was only too happy to pass along to ratepayers, while at the same time making a profit on them!

    As of now, ratepayers have paid and/or are still paying about*****:

    – $60 million (PER MONTH) for ongoing expenses and getting zero energy
    – $750 million for the replacement steam generators that were designed dangerously
    – $300 million for new turbines
    – $200 million for new reactor heads
    – $500 million of decommissioning shortfall, estimated…
    – $1,500 million for 5+ decades of nuclear waste on-site storage costs

    *******NOTE: This is only a partial listing and I believe it is on the LOW side…**

    ===> One good thing is that San Onofre is now not creating any additional nuclear waste that future generations will have to deal with!

    Excerpts from:
    CPUC practices crooked as a dog’s hind leg, by Don Bauder,

  11. Some of the issues you raise – such as an offsite storage or disposal facility – are beyond the NRC’s jurisdiction. Others, such as expedited transfer of spent fuel, are currently before the Commission.

    The state of the economy is also out of our control, of course, but our financial mechanisms for decommissioning trust funds are conservative, scrutinized every other year (and annually for plants in decommissioning), and backed up by parent company financial guarantees.

    As for the potential for decommissioning plants to remain in SAFSTOR for several years, remember that (1) not all of them do, and (2) most that are in SAFSTOR are at the same site as operating reactors, which makes immediate dismantlement more complicated.

    Much of what you propose would involve changing NRC’s regulations. One avenue you could pursue this would be to file a petition for rulemaking. Here’s a link explaining how to do that: http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/rulemaking/petition-rule.html

    Dave McIntyre

  12. @ Jeff, Wow, first off, nuclear is neither clean, nor safe, and let me add, cannot be run economically even using these old clunker plants. Kewaunee was selling into a retail environment of 14 cents per kWH and couldn’t compete with Natty and Solar.

    Your comment is “we try to pull the wool over your eyes by claiming that San O was a one for one replacement when it was nothing of the sort, and then when it blow up in our face, we complain that the NRC is being too hard on us”

    These plants are not resources they are liabilities.

  13. Decommissioning a working nuclear reactor (all of these) is about like filling the Panama Canal. Ultimately this will come to be seen as a great blunder and a monument to short sightedness.

    True, Songs and Crystal River need some repairs, but with a more cooperative attitude from the NRC and if they had taken into account the damage that would be done to the environment, and public health and safety by the filthy electricity sources which are substituting for safe, clean nuclear reactors, these reactors could continue to operate as well with only minor repairs.

    What a terrible, needless waste.

  14. Let me tell you what those who are paying the bills want to see.

    Right now, all used fuel over 5 years old shall be drycasked, this helps the work transition program for the plant employees.

    5 years from shutdown, all the rest of the fuel is drycasked, and moved to an offsite loaction far away from populated areas and thus far away from the effects of an airliner or bomb attack on the site.

    Now start dismantling the plant. The short lived isotopes are pretty much gone. And the longer lived istopes, strontium, cesium, transuranics, and other nuetron activated items are just not going away so fast, so the excuse that “we have to let them decay more to make the decomm safer” is just reality and we don’t buy it. Get on with it, head towards greenfield.

    And the excuse that “we have to let the funds set aside grow through compound interest to ‘better serve the needs of the public’ by allowing more funds 60 years from now….well anyone who thinks that at the lofty and fed pumped elevated nature of the equities and futures market valuations, plus the systemic risks and corruption inside the financial industries, and the near zero interest rates on fixed income investments. Well if there is anyone on this planet who think that any of these “investments” will even keep place with inflation whilst the printing presses run amok with NO end possible until there is a full on system collapse and reset, well if there is anyone on the planet who thinks this, I suggest that you take a few strong doses of the red pill. Decomm now, it is NOT getting any cheaper in terms of inflation corrected todays dollars.

    Please respond

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