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.

 

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.

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.

 

The Vermont Yankee Announcement

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer, Region I
 

vyYesterday, Vermont Yankee became the fifth U.S. commercial nuclear power reactor since the beginning of 2013 to announce plans to permanently cease operations. Earlier closure declarations this year involved the Kewaunee nuclear power plant, in Wisconsin; the two-unit San Onofre facility, in California; and Crystal River, in Florida.

Of those plants, Vermont Yankee’s decision has the most in common with Kewaunee, in that a primary determining factor, according to its operator, was changes in the electricity marketplace — particularly an abundance of low-cost natural gas — that impacted the plant’s economic competitiveness.

Given the plant’s satisfactory safety performance, it is currently under the normal level of oversight from the NRC.

For residents of Vermont and neighboring states, one of the first questions that may come to mind is what comes next?

Going forward, the NRC will continue its rigorous oversight of the Vernon, Vt., plant through the remainder of its operation and then into and through the decommissioning process. Once the final operational cycle concludes for the single-unit boiling water reactor, the facility’s owner, Entergy, would have to formally notify the NRC of the permanent cessation of power production within 30 days. Subsequently, Entergy would have to formally let us know once the fuel had been removed from the reactor.

vermontThere are numerous steps that would then follow in the decommissioning review process, including holding a public meeting near the plant to discuss the company’s plans. The company will outline its plans in a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR), which is to be submitted within two years after the certification of permanent closure. The PSDAR would provide a description of the planned decommissioning activities, a schedule for accomplishing them, and an estimate of the expected costs.

After receiving a PSDAR, the NRC publishes a notice of receipt in the Federal Register, and makes the report available for public review and comment.

More information about the decommissioning process is available in an NRC fact sheet and on the agency’s web site.