Preparing Shut Down Plants for Decommissioning

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer
Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee

Four commercial nuclear reactors – Kewaunee, Crystal River 3, and San Onofre 2 and 3 – ceased operations in 2013. A fifth, Vermont Yankee, is scheduled to close permanently by the end of this year. The NRC staff has taken several steps to transition our oversight of these plants to focus on decommissioning instead of plant operations.

This is the first time NRC has taken these steps since the last wave of nuclear power reactor decommissioning in the late 1990s.

Once the fuel is permanently removed from a shut-down reactor, the types of possible accidents are significantly fewer, and the risk of an offsite release of radioactivity significantly lower, than when the reactor was operating. A plant owner therefore may request exemptions to the regulations or amendments to its license based on site-specific analyses of the permanently shut-down and defueled reactor.   The NRC closely reviews each exemption request to ensure that public health and safety are adequately maintained and the common defense and security is assured as the plant transitions from operations to decommissioning.  Some recent actions:

  • Dominion Energy Kewaunee requested – and the NRC has approved — exemptions from the NRC’s emergency planning requirements to reflect the reduced risk of accidents. The plant will maintain an onsite emergency plan and response capabilities, including notification of local government officials of an emergency declaration. State and local authorities may still implement protection measures under their comprehensive emergency management plans. But, because the risk of accidents and offsite release is greatly reduced, Kewaunee will no longer be required to maintain offsite radiological emergency preparedness plans or the 10-mile emergency planning zone. After approving the exemptions on October 27 (ML14261A223), the NRC staff approved license amendments implementing the changes. (ML14279A482)
  • Dominion also requested certain exemptions from NRC’s physical security regulations for Kewaunee. The staff denied this request, however, concluding the company failed to demonstrate the changes would continue to provide adequate protection against radiological sabotage. (ML14282A519)
  • The NRC staff approved Dominion Energy Kewaunee’s training program for “certified fuel handlers,” who will manage plant operations from here on, focusing on spent fuel management and the transfer of spent fuel from the pool to dry casks. This approval was issued May 12. (ML14104A046)
  • An exemption issued May 21 allows Dominion to use some of its decommissioning trust fund to cover expenses of managing the plant’s spent fuel, without requiring NRC approval for each withdrawal from the fund. (ML13337A287). The NRC staff determined this would have no significant environmental impact (an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact were published in late April), and verified the trust fund contains enough money to cover spent fuel expenses and fully decommission the plant. (A similar exemption was issued July 21 for the Zion plant in Illinois, which has been in decommissioning for several years. ML14030A590)

Crystal River, San Onofre and Vermont Yankee have requested similar exemptions and license amendments. These requests are being reviewed separately to account for individual circumstances at each plant site. But the objectives are the same: to allow plant operators to focus their resources on the important task of preparing the plants for ultimate dismantling, decontamination and decommissioning, while ensuring adequate measures remain in place to protect public health and safety and the common defense and security.

Author: Moderator

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

15 thoughts on “Preparing Shut Down Plants for Decommissioning”

  1. Hmmm, let me see. How to maximize profits, this is what I would do.

    I would milk each reactor for as much as I could, get uprates, when competition gets too fierce, send my best lobbyists to preach to the politicians who will then pressure the PUC to alter the rate structures to hand me extra hundreds of millions. Make sure to lie about how nuclear generates so much tax? Where do they think the tax comes from? Answer–extracted from the rate payers, who can’t put that money into efficient use in the economy. Government spending operates at around 70% efficiency relative to private spending.

    Then a few years later, I would pretend that I am going to shut down, and get the labor unions and local businesses that rely on the nuclear plant to pressure the politicians to hand over even more money, make sure to play the CO2 card which is essentially a lie, but 97% of all facts can be ignored in “climate science”.

    Then as I got ready to shutdown, I would “select” the 60 year plan to let things sit, but make sure I get a waiver on safety and security (using the argument that if we squander those funds there is less chance to have enough money 60 years from now.) Also, up to this point, we have underfunded the decommission funds while also using a totally unrealistic cost to decommission, say $600M, although experience shows that around $2B in 2017 dollars is more realistic. So we have maybe $250M in the account. Do the magical compounding growth calculations, using an 8% or 7% rate of return on investment, which is completely unrealistic due to systemic risks that have not been “drained from the swamp” but instead doubled and tripled down on.

    Also, since it is important to skim money at every opportunity, I would make sure to pay the financial advisors and stock trading “experts” a hefty fee for their services, because “we want the best” and of course, they will capitulate with some kickbacks or by influencing others to our continuing company some non-bid contracts.

    I would delay moving any fuel to dry casks, instead keeping them in the water filled spent fuel pools. Then I would get the NRC to commission a study that shows the overfilled spent fuel pools (more tightly packed and using boron shields–ignore the fact that the boron shields are falling apart) are perfectly safe just as they are. In cases where community opposition is very high, I would kowtow a bit and do some dry casking, but then insist that the cask stay right at the plant, pretending that because Yucca mountain is not open, that is the only option. Even if that is right on the ocean, right on the ring of fire and subject to tsunami. Even if that is right on the Great Lakes. Even if that is right next to a huge city like Boston.

    Then in order to “more accurately track and increase shareholder value” I would spin off the decommissioned sites into a whole different entity. Somewhere, 20 or 30 years down the road, when the last of my plants are closed and I don’t give a rip about perception anymore, then I would by whatever means possible, deplete as much of the decommissioning funds as possible, and then declare bankruptcy.

  2. Exactly, anyone who would expect that greed, corruption, and hive mind “team work” (like “we” are part of the nuclear team, and you other unwashed masses cannot even comprehend what we do) would creep into even the best designed system.

    When dealing with a technology that creates sacrifice zones and potentially destroys entire countries, mixing humans into the equation IS THE PROBLEM for which there is no solution.

  3. You know, if I was a nuke operator, I would shut them down one by one as below, “choose” the long term 60 year decomissioning, milk each reactor for what I can make in profits, ask for uprates, minimize maintenance to maximize profits

  4. @dick, agreed that safety takes a back seat to accommodation of rule for the continued operations and profits of the civilian nuclear power industry. However, this is not all the NRC’s fault, they have to deal with the political shenanigans played by the politicians as “power plays” that get in the way of best decision making. I say it like that because there is no “good decision making” when it comes to handling nuclear waste, but let’s at least work together to pick the best of the bad choices, letting it sit in pools AND letting it sit on lightly protected sites (the old plants) is extremely dangerous from a terrorist and a Carrington large scale grid down scenario. I encourage the NRC to rescind this “decision” when their hands are untied. We need to eliminate unlimited corporate money flow to politicians if we ever expect good decisions to start to be made.

  5. Without a doubt these entities will be bankrupt by the time the real bills have come. TEPCO is executing their “Holding company” strategy as we speak.

    Your creation of the straw man argument “Yes, if there is a complete breakdown of society, with all utilities and all banks bankrupt and dissolved, there will be a problem decommissioning the plants. What is your point?” indicates clearly your lack of good faith discussion. “Etrade” oh yeah, the baby doing commercials, that makes high returns with nearly zero risk easy to find. And did you notice that little problem that was papered over? $280T of unfunded liabilities, and $800T in derivatives….

    Moderator Note: Some verbiage removed per the Blog Comment Guidelines

  6. The funds are held in a trust and cannot be used for anything else. Seriously, there is no easier problem in asset-liability management than the nuclear decommissioning trust. If you run a pension fund or endowment, you can only dream of such a problem. It’s like all risk management, where the problems with nuclear power are so much smaller than with any comparable alternative. Needless to say, anyone with an Etrade account knows where to find returns higher than Treasury bills, never mind BlackRock or JP Morgan.

    The liabilities can be deferred indefinitely until assets grow to match them, and in any event you will likely have 20 to 40 more years of extra income. The only problem is that as with everything the Staff does, the rules on NDT are wildly over-conservative and prohibit many of the options you should take with an infinite investment horizon. Still, it’s a not a difficult problem for people in that line of work. It’s the pension funds that are difficult; you can’t tell someone to wait a decade or two until the markets are favorable to get their pension, as you can with decommissioning. You can’t tell someone to work another 20 or 40 years and continue paying into the pension. At any utility, the pension fund and the NDT are about the same size, but again, the liabilities for the NDT are much, much easier to address.

    Yes, if there is a complete breakdown of society, with all utilities and all banks bankrupt and dissolved, there will be a problem decommissioning the plants. What is your point?

  7. Let’s not think too hard about decommissioning. The plants can easily go 60 years and 80 should not be a problem with a little effort. There is no advance on the horizon that will be any better than the light water reactor.

    NRC: please uphold your primary mission to maintain public health and safety. This mission demands that all NPP, no matter how poorly they perform relative to the rest of the nuclear power industry, should run for as many years as physically possible. If a NPP is shut down, it is replaced by something far more dangerous and unreliable, namely a natgas or coal plant. A NPP with a crack in the containment is still far safer than a dirt or natgas burner.

  8. These are the real safe nuclear power plants (defueled, yet continue paying insurance premiums). I feel so much safer now.

  9. Concerning the “New Resolution on SONGS”

    WHEREAS, on August 26, 2014, the NRC voted to allow spent nuclear fuel to be stored at onsite, licensed Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) pads according to three timelines: 60 years, 100 years, and indefinitely, without consulting the City of San Clemente; and

    the City of San Clemente requests that the spent fuel rods stored onsite at SONGS be prioritized for relocation to the repository as soon as it is safe to do so, in light of a) the geographic conditions unique to SONGS, b) the dense population surrounding SONGS, and c) the fact that SONGS is being decommissioned. ”

    Section 2. The City of San Clemente does not support the NRC decision to approve long-term or indefinite storage of spent fuel at the NRC licensed Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) pad at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and perceives it as a setback for the creation of a permanent Department of Energy nuclear spent fuel installation.

    Section 3. The City of San Clemente supports any efforts made by the State of California in the consideration of a temporary holding site for nuclear waste that is located away from high population areas until a permanent repository is made available.

    Section 6. The City of San Clemente requests that SONGS fulfill all NRC and CPUC requirements and regulations for dry cask canister inspection and monitoring systems, canister repair, damaged fuel handling procedures, and requests the addition of publicly accessible real-time onsite radiation monitoring before decommissioning funds are released for the purchase of a dry cask storage system.

  10. You know, if I was a nuke operator, I would shut them down one by one as below, “choose” the long term 60 year decomissioning, milk each reactor for what I can make in profits, ask for uprates, minimize maintenance to maximize profits. Delay dry cask under the premise of let funds grow (at zero interest rates, and losing real value quickly due to inflation), and then when my last plant shut down or had an accident, simply go bankrupt.

    Of course, all these nuke companies will be “bankrupt” by the time the real large costs of decomissioning occur.

    Does the NRC hold the decomm fund in their own accounts?

  11. Once the plants complete their transition to decommissioning status, they can begin the process of decontamination and demolition. We’ve described the longer process before here (, when Crystal River announced its shutdown, and again here (, when we published a video on the decommissioning process.

    Eventually, the reactor vessel will need to be dismantled and disposed of as waste. In past decommissionings, the entire facility has been decontaminated and dismantled, with little or nothing of the original plant remaining except for a dry cask spent fuel storage facility.

    Dave McIntyre

  12. Risks decrease at the site where it has a nuclear reactor because of the withdrawal of fuel, but want to know what happens to the structure where the reactors are? Everything is left after the removal of fuel?

  13. Glad the NRC is burying some of these nuclear nightmares. After over a half century of nuclear power the NRC still has no permanent repository for all the highly radioactive fuel that is piling up all over our country. This is pure and simple gross negligence! Public safety is really not an NRC priority.

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