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Decommissioning

Although it is imperative that we shut down nuclear plants, they remain dangerous, and expensive even when closed. Radioactive inventories remain present on the site and decommissioning costs have been skyrocketing, presenting the real danger that utilities will not be able to afford to properly shut down and clean up non-operating reactor sites.

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Saturday
Jun082013

San Onofre nuclear plant enters its decommissioning phase, which will take multiple decades and cost billions

Image by J. DeStefano, 2012As reported by the Capistrano Dispatch:

'...Victor Dricks, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region IV, which regulates SONGS, said the NRC will continue its oversight of the plant but determination of the impact the announcement will have on existing investigations and licensing actions will have to wait until Edison submits its decommissioning plan.

“The NRC is aware of Southern California Edison’s plans, but the agency is awaiting formal notification of the utility’s actions,” Dricks said. “Once Southern California Edison formally notifies the NRC that it has permanently removed all fuel from the San Onofre reactor cores, the NRC will use its existing processes to move San Onofre to the agency’s decommissioning oversight structure.”

In a conference call with reporters early Friday, Craver said the plant’s closure would be a “multi-decades long process,” cost billions, result in the layoff of hundreds and leave spent nuclear fuel in dry-storage at the plant’s existing sight for years to come.

According to Craver, the company has a $2.7 billion decommissioning fund, after taxes, to handle costs associated with the closure. The fund, he said, should cover 90 percent of expected expenses...'

Saturday
Jun082013

Swan SONGS as Edison opts to permanently close San Onofre

Image by J. DeStafano, 2012Southern California Edison has decided to permanently shutter its Units 2 and 3 San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) reactors in Southern Cal! Congratulations to all who fought so hard for this great victory! Read the Edison press release.

As reported in certain media coverage, the likelihood that the fatal flaws with its steam generators would end up blocking its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) 20-year license extension rubberstamp contributed to SCE's decision to permanently shutdown both reactors.

NRC immediately canceled imminent meetings re: safety concerns with the defective steam generators, to be held with grassroots anti-nuclear groups near San Onofre, announcing that it would instead move to decommissioning oversight.

"This is very good news for the people of Southern California," said [a] statement from Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica. "We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and wind." 

Pica pointed out that, with so many reactor "retirements" in recent months (Crystal River, FL; Kewaunee, WI; and now San Onofre 2 & 3), NRC stands for Nuclear Retirement Commission.

Beyond Nuclear has compiled comprehensive media coverage on, and other reactions to, the San Onofre 2 & 3 closures at its Nuclear Retreat page.

Tuesday
May072013

High noon for nuclear power: Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor permanently shuts down!

Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor, on the Lake Michigan shoreline in northern WI near Green BayAs reported by Platt's, at 12 PM Noon Central time today, Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor was permanently shutdown. Last October, Dominion announced its intention to permanently close Kewaunee by mid-2013. Dominion had attempted to sell Kewaunee, but found no buyers. Platt's reports "CMS Energy -- which sold Palisades, its only nuclear station, to Entergy in 2007 -- had considered buying the plant, but decided against it because of low gas prices and investor pushback."

Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, Inc points out that Kewaunee still had an operating license for another 20 years, but Dominion is unable to operate the reactor economically. Gundersen also points out that the 60-year SAFESTOR plan prior to decommissioning means Kewaunee will not be dismantled and cleaned up until about a century after it commenced operations, in 1973.

Duke Energy's announcement in recent weeks regarding the fatally cracked containment at its Crystal River, FL reactor, and today's final SCRAM at Kewaunee, are the first permanent shutdowns of commercial atomic reactors in the U.S. in about 15 years. Kewaunee joins Zion 1 & 2 in IL, and Big Rock Point in MI, on the list of reactors on the Lake Michigan shore permanently shutdown. Point Beach 1 & 2 in WI, as well as Cook 1 & 2 and Palisades in MI, are reactors still operating on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Lake Michigan is a headwaters of the Great Lakes, 20% of the world's surface fresh water, and drinking water supply for 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations.

Tuesday
May072013

Entergy Watch: Environmental coalition challenges Entergy's financial qualifications to continue operating reactors

"Burning money" graphic by Gene Case, Avenging AngelsAs reported by E&E's Hannah Northey at Greenwire, an environmental coalition including such groups as Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE), Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), and Pilgrim Watch, has launched an emergency enforcement petition at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, challenging the financial qualifications of Entergy Nuclear to safely operate and decommission such reactors at FitzPatrick in New York, Pilgrim in Massachusetts, and Vermont Yankee. All three reactors happen to be twin designs to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, that is, General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors. The coalition's petition cited financial analyses by UBS on Entergy's dire economic straits. Representatives from coalition groups, including Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter, testified today before an NRC Petition Review Board at the agency's headquarters in Rockville, MD. 

FitzPatrick, Pilgrim, and Vermont Yankee have each already recieved 20-year license extension rubber-stamps from NRC. FitzPatrick, even though it never installed a hardened vent in the early 1990s, to deal with its too small, too weak containment -- the only one, of 23 Mark I in the U.S., to not do so. Pilgrim became the longest contested license extension -- a proceeding lasting over 6 years -- thanks to the efforts of Mary Lampert at Pilgrim Watch. And the Vermont Yankee license extension was actually blocked by the State of Vermont -- this court battle between and involving the state, Entergy, and NRC rages on in multiple federal and state venues.

Thursday
Feb072013

"Exelon cuts dividend by 41%," as NRC investigates "deliberate" deception regarding decommissioning funds

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, "Exelon's stock has dropped by nearly two-thirds since its high in 2008." The company partly blames "higher nuclear fuel costs" for its "diminished earnings."

Ironically, the biggest nuclear utility in the U.S. is looking to expanding its renewables portfolio to expand its earnings:

'...It would also seek customers interested in contracting with Exelon for wind and solar power. Such power purchase agreements would guarantee steady and predictable returns.

..."When the balance sheet is tight like it is right now, you would want to make investments that have a short investment period," [Exelon CEO] Crane said. "Wind and other smaller assets really do fit that profile. Within a year, you're getting a return."'

Gouging its ratepayers at the earliest opportunity also seems to be in the Exelon business plan:

'...At Exelon, all eyes are looking forward to 2015 when approximately 19,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity plants will have retired. Coal plant retirements are expected to increase electricity prices Exelon's nuclear power plants take and help to counteract stubbornly low natural gas prices have been driving down the company's earnings.' (emphasis added)

The article also lists "significant headwinds" ahead, and "several legal and regulatory matters that could add to its woes," including "an investigation by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," and "still unknown costs associated with NRC-mandated upgrades that came out of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan."

NRC appears to have just busted Exelon for "deliberate" deception -- the company appears to have intentionally low-balled the price tag for eventual nuclear power plant decommissioning, in order to mask the woeful inadequacy -- amounting to around a billion dollars -- of its dedicated decommissioning funds. Bloomberg reportedthat "[t]he shortfall totaled $1 billion in 2009." (emphasis added) Crain's Chicago Business has reported on this story.

U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), currently serving as Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, has long shined a spotlight on the inadequacy of nuclear power plant decommissioning funds, as by requesting Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigations of NRC's oversight, or lack thereof.

The long term "deliberate" deception is reminiscent of Exelon's decade long cover up of massive tritium leaks into ground and surface waters at the Braidwood nuclear power plant. These were brought to light thanks to freedom of information act requests made by Cynthia Sauer, whose daughter Sarah contracted a rare form of childhood brain cancer at age 7. The family lived close to Exelon's Dresden nuclear power plant, not far from Braidwood.

The decommissioning of the twin reactor Zion nuclear power plant, 30 miles north of Chicago, is the biggest decommissioning project in U.S. history, with a projected price tag of around a billion dollars. EnergySolutions of Salt Lake City is in charge, itself embroiled in serious financial troubles.

British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd. (BNFL), absorbed into the EnergySolutions empire several years ago, carried out the decommissioning of the Big Rock Point atomic reactor in Charlevoix, Michigan, on the Lake Michigan shore, from 1997 to 2006. Despite being paid $366 million for the "clean-up," BNFL left radioactive contamination -- including plutonium -- in the soil and groundwater. It didn't even bother to check the contamination level in the sediments of Lake Michigan, not even in the canal into which Big Rock Point had "routinely" discharged radioactivity (with federal and state permission) for 35 years (1962-1997). Remarkably, NRC blessed the Big Rock Point decommissioning with a permit for "unrestricted re-use," meaning the contaminated land can be used for any purpose, ignoring the lingering radiation hazard.