Vermont Yankee Shuts Down – After 42 Years

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

VermontYankeeAerialView

Update: The NRC is accepting comments from the public on the Vermont Yankee Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report. The comment period will be open through March 23, 2015. Written comments can be submitted to: Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: 3WFN-06-A44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001, and via www.regulations.gov, using Docket No. 50-271. Another opportunity for members of the public to offer comments on the report will be at an NRC meeting being planned for Feb. 19 in Brattleboro, Vt.

 

Capping off slightly more than 42 years of splitting atoms and generating electricity, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s reactor was shut down for the final time today.

Although Vermont Yankee’s operating license was valid until March 21, 2032, its owner, Entergy, decided last year to close the Vernon, Vt., plant. It cited low natural gas prices and other factors when announcing that decision.

Planning is already well under way by the company on what lays ahead, namely a decommissioning process expected to take place over several years. Many of the details are outlined in a roadmap document known as a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR).

Entergy filed the report for Vermont Yankee with the NRC on Dec. 19. Before the decommissioning process kicks into gear – an undertaking some have likened to construction in reverse – the NRC will review the report and determine if the approaches meet the applicable federal criteria.

In conjunction with that review, the NRC plans to hold a public meeting in early 2015 to receive comments on the PSDAR. More details will be provided in the near future.

There is a significant amount of review and additional planning work to be accomplished in the months and years ahead. The NRC is prepared to keep close watch on those activities for every step of what promises to be a lengthy journey. State officials and a Vermont-formed decommissioning oversight panel will also play key roles in this process.

Throughout the journey, the NRC will continue to carry out its oversight responsibilities through on-site inspections and reviews of regulatory filings by Entergy. These NRC programs have a common goal: To protect public health and safety and the environment as the site moves through the various stages of decommissioning.

More information about the NRC’s decommissioning activities is available on the agency’s website.

 

Throw Back Thursday — Haddam Neck

haddamneckIn this photo, the 402-ton nuclear reactor vessel head for the Haddam Neck nuclear power plant passes the New York City skyline on March 29, 1966. Haddam Neck was a pressurized water reactor located in Meriden, Conn. When was it shut down? Photo courtesy of the former Atomic Energy Commission.

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.

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.