Oyster Creek Plant Fully Decommissioning Within 60 Years

Exelon Goes With Safe Storage Option
Jun 06, 2018
File Photo by: Jack Reynolds

After announcing earlier this year plans to permanently close the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in October, a full 14 months ahead of its anticipated shutdown, Exelon Generation intends to place the Lacey Township-based nuke in safe storage for nearly six decades, according to its Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report. The report was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission May 21.

“During SAFSTOR (safe storage), a facility is left intact or may be partially dismantled, but the fuel is removed from the reactor vessel and radioactive liquids are drained from the systems and components then processed,” according to the report. “Radioactive decay occurs during the SAFSTOR period, lowering the level of contamination and radioactivity that must be disposed of during decontamination and dismantlement.”

In its report, the utility company said the primary objectives for decommissioning the plant are to take it out of service, reduce residual radioactivity to levels permitting unrestricted release, restore the site, perform the work safely, and complete the work in a cost-effective manner.

“The selection of a preferred decommissioning alternative is influenced by a number of factors at the time of plant shutdown,” the report said. “These factors include the cost of each decommissioning alternative, minimization of occupation radiation exposure, availability of high-level waste (spent fuel) repository or a Department of Energy interim storage facility, regulatory requirements and public concerns.”

In 2011, the NRC revised its regulations governing spent fuel rods, allowing for initial and renewal terms of up to 40 years rather than 20-year terms for dry cask storage. The regulations do not limit the number of times an applicant can request renewal of a cask or storage system certificate, provided the applicant demonstrates the effects of aging on the components are adequately addressed in accordance with the regulations.

Federal law requires decommissioning to be completed within 60 years of a nuclear plant being taken permanently offline. Under this method, a nuke is placed and maintained in safe storage, allowing radioactivity levels to decrease through decay. It’s followed by decontamination and dismantlement, according to the report. A license termination plan will be developed and submitted to the NRC at least two years prior to termination of the license.

The initial decommissioning activities after plant shutdown include defueling the reactor, transferring the fuel into the spent fuel pool, draining of fluids and de-energizing systems, reconfiguring electrical distribution, ventilation, heating, fire protection systems, and minor deconstruction activities.

“Systems temporarily needed for continued operation of the spent fuel pool may be reconfigured for operational efficiency,” according to the report. “During dormancy, the OCNGS (Oyster Creek Station) will be staffed with personnel that will monitor, maintain and provide security for the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) and plant facilities.”

Staffing requirements will change during safe storage and are dependent on the status of spent fuel being stored on-site.

“What we’re concerned about is if there’s a just transition plan for employees who work there,” Jeff Tittle, director of New Jersey Sierra Club, said recently in a statement addressing layoffs at the nation’s oldest commercial nuclear power plant. “We want to make sure employees can find work at other facilities or take part in the plant’s decommissioning. We hope that the work at the plant will continue and the displaced workers will be treated fairly and given other work.”

Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1, said if the federal agency found staffing cutbacks were negatively impacting plant safety it would take the appropriate action to ensure the issues were addressed.

“At this point, we have not observed any issues along those lines at Oyster Creek,” he said, noting they look for adverse trends in safety performance through its ongoing inspections and plant performance indicators.

Last week, the White House released a statement condemning the impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities, saying this is leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of the nation’s energy mix and impacting the resilience of its power grid.

This comes just days after Exelon Corp. responded to the Department of Justice and Federal Regulatory Commission’s filing in a lawsuit challenging Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, saying they remain confident “the courts will uphold the view of policymakers and regulators who support the continued operation of Illinois’ nuclear plants and the environmental benefits they provide for consumers.”

Oyster Creek produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough electricity to supply 600,000 typical homes, the equivalent to all homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined. The facility is a single-unit boiling water reactor, located on 800 acres neighboring Oyster Creek. It is one of four nuclear power plants licensed to operate in New Jersey. Salem Nuclear Power Plant has two units; the fourth unit is at Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station.

In its June 1 statement, the White House said the president believes in total energy independence and dominance.

“Keeping America’s energy grid and infrastructure strong and secure protects our national security, public safety, and economy from intentional attacks and natural disasters,” the June 1 statement from the White House read, noting Trump directed Rick Perry, secretary of energy, to prepare immediate steps to prevent the loss of these resources.

Still, there’s no indication the president’s order to halt the closing of unprofitable coal and nuclear plants will in any way impact Exelon’s decision to permanently shut down the Oyster Creek plant in just four months.

Exelon was originally granted a 20-year license renewal by the NRC, which would allow Oyster Creek to operate as a base-load electricity generator through April 9, 2029. The nuke was later scheduled to come offline Dec. 31, 2019 in an agreement Exelon struck with the state to forgo building cooling towers at the site. It’s now scheduled for retirement before Oct. 31.

In fact, the company continues to move ahead with submitting exemption requests to the NRC for after Oyster Creek comes offline this fall. The latest, an insurance coverage exemption, was reviewed and determined to have enough information to move ahead on a more formal and detailed evaluation.

“We currently expect our review to be completed in the March 2019 timeframe,” Sheehan said.

Gina G. Scala


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