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Category Archives: Decommissioning

NRC Finishes Review of Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Planning Report

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

More of a marathon than a sprint, the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant can in some cases take decades. But central to the successful completion of that process is careful planning and vigilant oversight.

vyIn December of 2014, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant embarked on that phase of its life after being permanently shut down. As required by the NRC, Entergy, the plant’s owner, submitted a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, or PSDAR, on Dec. 19, 2014.

What exactly is a PSDAR? It is a report designed to provide the NRC and public with a general overview of the company’s proposed decommissioning activities. The report includes estimated costs for decommissioning and an affirmation that the decommissioning can be completed consistent with the site’s environmental statement.

Since the PSDAR only provides information and is not a federal action, it does not require NRC approval. However, the agency does review such submittals to confirm they meet regulatory requirements.

Besides performing an evaluation of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the decommissioning plans, the NRC staff also reviewed public comments regarding the report. Along those lines, the agency held a public meeting on Feb. 19, 2015, in Brattleboro, Vt., for the purpose of receiving comments. Those remarks and others submitted separately in writing were all considered as the report was being prepared.

The NRC staff has now completed its review of the report and has determined the planned decommissioning activities, schedules and other information described in it are consistent with the agency’s requirements in this area. A copy of the NRC’s letter to Entergy regarding the PSDAR review results will be made available in the agency’s electronic documents system, ADAMS.

Also on the topic of Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning, as of Feb. 1, 2016, the responsibility for Vermont Yankee has been transferred within the NRC from the office responsible for operating reactors to the office responsible for decommissioning nuclear power plants.

Going forward, the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards’ Division of Decommissioning, Uranium Recovery and Waste Programs will oversee licensing activities involving Vermont Yankee.

The NRC will continue to perform inspections at Vermont Yankee, with the intention of being on-site anytime a major activity is taking place.


Extending the Deadline on Decommissioning Comments

Dave McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

The NRC is extending the public comment period on our decommissioning rulemaking from the original date of January 4 to March 18 to allow more time for members of the public to develop and submit their comments on this important issue. The extension more than doubles the comment period from 45 to 120 days.

We published an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” or ANPR in regulatory lingo, in the Federal Register on November 19. This was the first step toward developing a regulatory basis for a new rule on decommissioning commercial nuclear power plants.

The new rule would establish clear requirements for decommissioning reactors in emergency preparedness, physical security and fitness-for-duty, among other areas, thereby reducing the need for exemptions from current requirements designed for operating reactors. It would also address the timeliness of decommissioning and the role of state and local governments and other organizations. The result would be a more efficient, open and reliable decommissioning process.

Five reactors have permanently shut down since the beginning of 2013, and three more are expected to cease operations by 2019.

Comments may be submitted over the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov, using Docket ID NRC-2015-0070.

Entergy to NRC: Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant To Cease Operations

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

pilgOver the past few years, five reactors have permanently stopped operation earlier than anticipated and began the process of decommissioning. A sixth will soon be joining that list, it was announced yesterday. Entergy, owner of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, announced its plan to stop operations at the Plymouth, Mass., facility no later than June 1, 2019. The nuclear plant in Oyster Creek previously announced it was shutting down in 2019.

Entergy has emphasized to the NRC its commitment to safe plant operations until Pilgrim’s control rods are inserted for the last time and the unit is shut down. The company has also told us it intends to get ready for and support NRC inspection activities associated with the plant’s recent transition to Column 4 of our Action Matrix.

The NRC will continue to conduct inspections and provide oversight consistent with that required of a plant in that status, with a team inspection expected sometime in 2016.

More broadly, the agency will keep close watch on Pilgrim’s performance through the end of its operational life. Additional information on the agency’s oversight activities at the plant are available on the NRC’s website.

There are more than a dozen units in some stage of decommissioning under NRC oversight.  The NRC has traditionally used operating reactor regulations for plants undergoing decommissioning, which requires the plants to seek exemptions when the regulations for operating reactors are no longer relevant or appropriate.

While this approach is sound from a safety standpoint, the Commission has directed NRC staff to initiate a process for developing a reactor decommissioning rulemaking, with a final rule to be issued by early 2019. For information on decommissioning can be found on the NRC website.




A Decommissioning of a Different Sort: NRC Resident Inspector Office at Vermont Yankee Shuts Down

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

VYResidentOfficeClose 7-2015Something happened last week at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that might not merit headline news but is nonetheless worth highlighting: The lights were turned off for the last time in the NRC’s Resident Inspector office at the site.

As is well known by now, Vermont Yankee permanently ceased operations last December, bringing to a halt power production that had begun in November 1972. Since 1978, when the Resident Inspector program was launched, the NRC has had two such inspectors assigned to the site.

Among other things, these inspectors have kept close watch on day-to-day activities, responded to events, performed inspections and reviews and served as a vital conduit of information to the NRC. But commensurate with the reduced safety risk associated with a permanently shutdown reactor, the NRC has ended its daily inspector presence.

The NRC had kept a Resident Inspector at the Vernon, Vt., site to allow us to maintain on-site scrutiny during the early stages of the transition from an operating plant to one entering decommissioning. (Vermont Yankee will be using the SAFSTOR approach, which will involve placing the unit in storage for many years before embarking on major decontamination and dismantlement work.)

Although the Resident Inspector office has closed, NRC’s review activities have not come to a halt. Rather, the agency will continue to perform inspections at the plant on a periodic and targeted basis.

For instance, whenever there is major work taking place, such as the demolition of a nuclear-related building or the removal of spent fuel stored in the plant’s spent fuel pool into dry casks, an NRC inspector will be present. In addition, NRC will conduct inspections at the site at regular intervals to check on the plant’s safety status and any key developments until all spent fuel has been removed from the site and the plant’s NRC license is terminated.

Anyone seeking to contact the NRC regarding Vermont Yankee can continue to do so by calling the agency’s Region I Office via its toll-free phone number at 1-800-432-1156 and asking for the Division of Nuclear Materials Safety or by e-mail at OPA1@NRC.GOV .

Vermont Yankee is not unique with respect to this change involving the Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant. Three other plants that have shut down in recent years have also seen this changeover.

Continuing to Learn the Lessons of San Onofre

Rebecca Sigmon
Reactor Systems Engineer
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

Almost two years after the San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down permanently, the NRC has kept an eye on what we can learn from the events that led to the plant’s closure. The latest product of this work reviews the agency’s procedures related to Southern California Edison’s (SCE) installation of new steam generators at the plant.

songsThis work builds on our response to the steam generator damage San Onofre discovered in January 2012. At the time, our inspections and reviews aimed to understand what had happened and ensure public safety would be maintained before the plant could restart. Even after SCE decided in June 2013 to shut San Onofre down, the NRC continued its reviews to try to prevent something similar from happening at other reactors.

A year ago, our Executive Director for Operations asked the offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and New Reactors, as well as our Region IV office, to review the NRC’s own actions. The effort focused on the event and the NRC’s response to find any areas for improving our processes. The review covers issues raised in a 2014 NRC Inspector General report.

The review examines eight basic topics and discusses 17 actions to enhance what are already effective tools for overseeing U.S. operating reactors. Some of the topics include: better identification of potential design issues before they lead to problems; better assurance that plants comply with our requirements in 10 CFR 50.59, “Changes, Tests, and Experiments;” and improving communications with the public.

The review touched on all aspects of the NRC’s involvement in the San Onofre event, from on-site inspection to Congressional briefings, from technical review to website maintenance. The review team discussed some of these issues with industry experts. The team also sought comments from members of the public who participated in meetings about the San Onofre event and subsequent technical analyses.

The review concludes, among other things, that the 50.59 process is appropriate for plant activities that replace large components, such as steam generators. The review also finds that the staff properly used a Confirmatory Action Letter as an oversight tool in responding to the San Onofre events.

The staff’s already working on many of the review’s 17 actions. For instance, the staff is working on documents that clarify several areas of NRC guidance on following the 50.59 process. The NRC is also working on additional training for agency staff to improve their 50.59 reviews and associated activities. All of this ongoing work will help ensure U.S. nuclear power plants continue to safely operate, maintain and repair their systems.

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