Nuclear Fuel Transfer Complete, Oyster Creek Generating Station Not Authorized for Operation

Oct 03, 2018

It took just eight days for Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station employees to complete the final transfer of spent fuel from the core reactor to the spent fuel pool, following the beginning of an outage that took the plant to permanent shutdown. Mike Gallagher, vice president of license renewal and decommissioning for Exelon Generation, made the official notification to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission via a Sept. 25 letter.

Along with its formal notification to the NRC on the permanent shutdown of the nuke plant and transfer status of the spent fuel, Exelon Generation is no longer authorized to operator the reactor, said Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC Region 1 office.

“We will keep a residential inspector on site at the plant for several months after shutdown,” he said, noting the inspector will focus on the site’s safe transition from an operating reactor to one entering the decommissioning phase of its life cycle.

“Once we no longer have a resident inspector present, we will continue to perform reviews of decommissioning activities at the plant,” Sheehan said. “A key focus in the next several years will be on the transfer of spent nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pool to dry cask storage.”

Dry cask storage has been in use at nuclear power plants for more than three decades, beginning with the Surry Power Station in Virginia. At one time, it was thought to be a temporary solution to house spent fuel. That changed when the Yucca Mountain repository, located about 90 miles from Las Vegas, dead-ended. Currently, the NRC is reviewing applications for two potential interim sites to house spent nuclear fuel, one in Texas and the other in New Mexico. In the meantime, the only option for U.S. nuclear power plants is to store spent fuel from the reactor vessel on site, federal officials said.

Just last month, the deadline to request a public hearing on Holtec International’s interim repository in New Mexico closed. Holtec is the New Jersey-based company interested in purchasing Oyster Creek and rapidly advancing its decommissioning process. Holetc and Exelon Generation officials  filed a joint license transfer for Oyster Creek, but a decision by the NRC on the license transfer isn’t expected for at least a year.

However, there is still time to request a public hearing for a similar spent fuel facility in West Texas. That window closes Oct. 29. The federal agency resumed reviewing the application after it received two letters, dated June 8 and July 19, from Interim Storage Partners, a joint venture between Waste Control Specialists and Orano CIS LLC.

Decommissioning under Exelon’s plan would take the full 60 years permitted under federal regulations. Holtec, should the NRC approve the license transfer, promises to have the site fully remediated in eight years so it can be repurposed. If the feds haven’t provided either a permanent or interim repository for the spent nuclear fuel, it will remain on site with a security force and systems in place, according to Exelon officials.

— Gina G. Scala

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