NRC Approves Updated Oyster Creek Spent Fuel Management Plan

Oct 10, 2018
File Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Within days of the final removal of spent nuclear fuel from the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station’s core reactor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its favorably review of the plant’s spent fuel management plan. In its Sept. 28 finding, the NRC noted its staff reviewed estimates for major spent fuel management activities and funding requirements, saying “the associated costs of the Oyster Creek SFMP appear reasonable.”

The federal agency, on a preliminary basis, approves a program for managing irradiated fuel submitted by a nuclear plant’s owner, according to Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 office.

“Subsequent submittals are reviewed for any significant changes that may challenge NRC staff’s previous approval,” he said, noting the federal agency approved the program on a preliminary basis in 2004. The feds reiterated their findings in 2014 after Exelon Generation, in planning the plant’s permanent shutdown, slated at that time for December 2019, provided an update to its initial spent fuel management plan.

Earlier this year, Exelon again provided an update to its plan, which was preliminarily approved in 2016, Sheehan said. The updated plan modified its spent fuel management schedule in accordance with the company’s decision to permanently shut down the plant this year. Oyster Creek’s final day of generating carbon-free electricity was Sept. 17, more than a year earlier than agreed to under a settlement with the state of New Jersey to avoid building cooling towers at the Route 9 site. Oyster Creek was licensed to operate through April 2029.  Spent fuel management costs were also updated, using 2017 figures, according to Sheehan.

“Upon review, the NRC staff again concluded that the updated plan appeared reasonable,” he said, adding the federal agency considers cost information from independent sources and compares that data against information provided by plant owners.

Taking into account inflation and the spent fuel management plan’s operational period, the NRC determines whether the cost provided by a licensee is in the range of or exceeds the higher range cited in a source, Sheehan said.

“Additionally, the NRC staff will compare the plan with a range of other plant owners’ cost estimates to determine reasonableness,” he said. “That said, the NRC staff acknowledges that potential site-specific variances may exist among individual spent fuel management plans.”

In the case of Oyster Creek, Sheehan said, NRC staff review included the spent fuel management activities and associated cost elements found in the Oyster Creek updated plan and site-specific decommissioning cost estimate and those costs previously provided in Exelon’s 2016 submittal.

“The NRC staff reviewed estimates for major spent fuel management activities and funding requirements including capital for spent fuel management infrastructure; spent fuel pool operation, maintenance and isolation costs; Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) expansion and operating costs; emergency planning costs; security and utility staffing costs; and spent fuel transfer costs,” he said.

The NRC staff will evaluate any changes Holtec International, the New Jersey-based company interested in purchasing Oyster Creek and rapidly advancing its decommissioning process, may make to the plan once that document has been received by the NRC. In July, Exelon Generation announced its intention to sell the nuclear plant, once the oldest operating plant in the nation, to Holtec. The two companies filed a joint license transfer with the NRC. It takes about a year for license transfer reviews, though both companies are requesting a quicker turnaround time, Sheehan said.

“We consider both the spent fuel pool and dry cask storage to be safe methods of storing spent nuclear fuel at the site,” Sheehan said. “The spent fuel management plan helps ensure there is a program in place to adequately carrying out that plan, including the provision of funding.”

— Gina G. Scala

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