NRC Officials Explain Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Process

Feb 6, 2015

Credit NRC

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave an overview of the decommissioning process this week and what Vermonters can expect now that the Vermont Yankee reactor has shut down.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant ceased operations on December 29th. On January 12th, Entergy completed the transfer of all fuel in the reactor vessel to the spent fuel pool.
The plant, which produced electricity for more than 42 years, will sit for decades while its radioactive components cool. This dormant phase, known as SAFSTOR, is part of a 60-year timeline explained by NRC Office of Nuclear Materials Safety and Safeguards Chief of Reactor Decommissioning Bruce Watson.   “Vermont Yankee’s plans call for the plant to be placed in a period of SAFSTOR, dormancy, from 2016 to 2068.  There would then be preparations for dismantling and decommissioning from 2068 to ‘69.  The actual dismantling and decommissioning from 2069 to 2073 and site restoration from 2073 to 2075.  A near term focus will be preparing the plant for SAFSTOR and removing all fuel from the spent fuel and into dry cask storage.”  

Watson described decommissioning as a marathon that must be completed within 60 years. He added that applies only to the portion of the site pertaining to nuclear power production and not rehabilitating the grounds to greenfield condition.  “The basis for the sixty year time frame is fifty years for SAFSTOR to allow the radioactive decay of shorter radioactive materials,  plus ten years of radiological decommissioning work to terminate the NRC license.  During the fifty year SAFSTOR period, studies conducted by the NRC estimate that the radiation dose rates are reduced to one to two percent of the initial total and will contribute significantly to the safety of workers.”

Vermont Yankee has already loaded 13 dry casks with spent fuel and over the coming years more will be placed in dry casks.  NRC Region 1 Nuclear Materials Safety Chief of the Decommissioning Marc Ferdas notes that Entergy is responsible for maintaining safety and security until the casks are accepted by the DOE for disposal.  “Even in shutdown they are required to maintain a security posture.”

Decommissioning costs are anticipated to be $1.5 billion. There have been concerns about the amount Entergy has in its decommissioning fund. In mid-December Entergy reported $655 million dollars in the fund as the end of October 2014.   Bruce Watson says the NRC will monitor the funds, noting that plants are required to provide annual updates to assure there will be enough money to complete the decommissioning.  “With the plant going into SAFSTOR that allows for the funds to be reinvested or invested in some very secure financial instruments to allow the fund to grow.  There is an independent trustee that has those funds for the decommissioning.  According to our regulations the utility is legally obligated to make sure that the funds are there to make sure that they can complete the decommissioning  as planned.”

The NRC will hold a public meeting in Brattleboro on February 19th to discuss and accept comments on the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report that has been filed by Entergy.