Thursday, 8 November 2012

Shutting down nuclear plant begins a long process
28 Oct 2012

CARLTON (US) --It will be decades before the Kewaunee Power Station site is returned to pastoral Lake Michigan shoreline, and even then its used nuclear fuel might remain. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has strict rules regarding the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, but within those rules is a lot of flexibility regarding when some steps are completed. Overall, a reactor owner has 60 years to complete the process.

Dominion Resources Inc, announced on Oct. 22 that it would shut down the one-reactor Kewaunee Power Station in spring 2013. It cited the low cost of producing electricity and soon-to-expire agreements for selling the plant's output as reasons for the closing. It had tried for 18 months to sell the plant, but failed to find a buyer.

Next, the operator must submit a written certification that it ceased operations to the NRC within 30 days of shutting down. Within two years it must submit a post-shutdown decommissioning activities report, which triggers the first of several public meetings.

The NRC allows reactor operators to choose one of three decommissioning processes. One is immediate dismantling and another allows for radioactive contaminants--which would include more than spent fuel--to be stored on site until radioactivity decays sufficiently to allow restricted release of the property.

Dominion chose a method called SAFSTOR in NRC parlance. The facility is maintained and monitored in a condition that allows radioactivity to decay, after which it is dismantled and the property decontaminated.

Daniel Stoddard, senior vice president of nuclear operations for Dominion, said the first step would be to transfer radioactive fuel rods from the reactor to the spent fuel pool in the plant, where they would stay for five to seven years. After that, they will be placed in dry-cask storage at an exterior location on site.

Stoddard said "eventually, the federal government will take title to the fuel as it is required to do", but there's no indication when that will be. Since the federal government abrogated its responsibility to create a national repository for spent nuclear fuel, which was supposed to have been completed in 1998, the NRC has had to devise other plans. The NRC said decommissioning costs range from $300 million to $400 million, but some have been as much as $1 billion, according to reports.