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Holtec expands n-waste and new build business model with rapid decommissioning 

Every stage of the nuclear power industry is inherenty dangerous. So it is important to understood that decommissioning---dismantling---old radioactive nuclear reactors is not a benign process. Of all the links in the nuclear chain, however, decommissioning has the least environmental scrunity and regulatory oversight.  The public has no due process and very little transparency into the health, safety and environmental impacts. Quality control and quality assurances are critical agreeements for entrusting public health and safety while moving the radioactive corpus somewhere else.

The New Jersey-based company Holtec International has agreed to purchase three soon-to-close U.S. nuclear power stations to try out its new rapid decommissioning strategy. Pending U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval, Chicago-based Exelon and New Orleans-based Entergy announced sale  agreements for the Oyster Creek (NJ), Pilgrim (MA) and Palisades (MI) nuclear power stations to a fledgling company, Comprehensive Decommissioning International (CDI), formed by the 2018 merger of parent companies Holtec International and SNC-Lavalin (SNCL). CDI is offering that its prompt decommissioning strategy for commercial power reactors and site restoration can be completed inside of 8 years. The expedited dismantlement requires added state and community scrutiny.

Holtec International won the NRC approval for the new decommissioning technology, “proto-prompt decommissioning in 2008. Holtec aims to accelerate the transfer of high-level nuclear waste (irradiated nuclear fuel assemblies) from onsite wet storage in pools into onsite Holtec dry cask storage canisters.  The technology credits the dry storage cask’s new fuel basket design of “an aluminum boron carbide metal matrix composite” with ten times more thermal efficient conductivity than stainless steel. The basket welds are said not to suffer heat and radiation distortion typically seen in conventional welds.  Holtec claims the new technology allows for “young and hot” nuclear fuel from recently closed reactors to be transferred from pools into dry cask storage canisters quicker and hasten the dismantling of the sites.

Holtec International’s rapid decommissioning strategy adds to its plan to send thousands of nuclear waste shipments onto the roads, rails and barges for dry cask transport to a proposed Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CIS). The CIS is being confronted by broad opposition at the Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance's proposal to "park" 173,600 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel in casks in southeastern New Mexico. See Beyond Nuclear’s post on our website. Holtec has a long been subject to whistleblower concerns for cask quality control issues.  Serious questions remain including what happens in the event of a hot dry cask failure and radioactive breach on an open tarmac, what are the community emergency procedures and how is that radioactive waste going to be recontainerized?

Holtec and SNCL teamed up in 2017 in hopes to start building Holtec’s design for a small modular reactor design, the SMR-160. The SMR-160 is a 160-megawatt electric light water reactor fueled by low enriched uranium.  Using a single control room, the SMR-160 siting plan buries the multi-unit reactor complex deep underground near large populations along with onsite underground nuclear waste storage canisters. Holtec claims that the design’s passive safety features make their facility as benign as a “cotton mill or chocolate factory.” Small reactors have been around for awhile, well before the nuclear industry's "economy of scale" financial collapse. There were loads of safety and environmental problems then and now. Small reactors make more nuclear waste per megawatt hour, for example.

Decommissioning is a very important end-of-reactor-life cycle. Public vigilance is required to help make impacted communities aware of actions undertaken and consequences encountered at each phase of the decontamination, dismantlement and site restoration process. Examples of Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panels have an increasingly important role to play in providing the community education and transparency component where regulation and oversight have been withdrawn.