Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants
Decommissioning is the process by which nuclear power plants are safely retired from service. The progression involves decontaminating the facility to reduce residual radioactivity, dismantling the structures, removing contaminated materials to appropriate disposal facilities and releasing the property for other uses. The owner remains accountable to the NRC until decommissioning has been completed and the agency has terminated its license.
Here’s a brief look at what will occur at Oyster Creek:
1. The reactor is powered down. This will remove 650 megawatts of electricity from the regional grid.
2. Oyster Creek’s fuel is removed from the reactor vessel and placed in the spent fuel pool to cool.
3. Cooled fuel can be placed in stainless steel canisters and transported to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Facility (ISFSI) on station property.
4. Radioactive equipment and components are dismantled per an approved long-term plan.
5. Contaminated components are dismantled, securely packaged and transported to a licensed off-site facility.
6. The site is inspected by state and federal agencies to ensure the property has been returned to conditions outlined in the decommissioning plans. Both the State and Federal agencies will continue to monitor the site.
Our Decommissioning Team:
Long after Oyster Creek ceases operations, a team of employees will remain on site. Here’s a look at what we will be doing.
PROTECTING THE FACILITY AND THE PUBLIC:
A security force will safeguard the facility until all nuclear fuel has been removed from the site.
ENGINEERS, TECHNICIANS & CRAFTWORKERS:
A highly qualified, skilled staff of experts will oversee and conduct the entire dismantlement process.
Using company employees and contracted experts, Exelon will continue a strong environmental monitoring program through decommissioning.
Teams of qualified employees, both on and off-site, will be on-call all day, every day to work to protect the plant and the public in an unlikely emergency situation.
Overview of Decommissioning Process
To decommission a nuclear power plant, the licensee must submit a post‐shutdown decommissioning activities report to the NRC. This report provides a description of the planned decommissioning activities, a schedule for accomplishing them, and an estimate of the expected costs.
The licensee has to reduce the residual radioactivity to levels that permit release of the property and termination of the facility’s operating license. The site must be decommissioned within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations.
The decommissioning process involves removing the used nuclear fuel from the reactor; dismantling systems or components containing radioactive products (e.g. the reactor vessel); and cleaning up or dismantling contaminated materials from the facility.
Contaminated materials can be disposed of in two ways: decontaminated on site or removed and shipped to a wasteprocessing, storage or disposal facility.
Decommissioning Options (companies can chose one or both options)
- SAFSTOR (Safe Storage) ‐ Plant is kept intact, all fuel is placed in spent fuel pool or dry storage casks and time is used as a decontaminating agent. Plant is then dismantled similar to DECON once radioactivity has decayed to lower levels.
- DECON (Decontamination) ‐ Contaminated equipment and materials are removed (used nuclear fuel rods and equipment account for over 99 percent of the plant’s radioactivity). Plant is then dismantled ‐ this phase can take five years or longer.
Terminating the NRC License, Releasing the Site
As the DECON phase nears completion, the company must submit a license termination plan to the NRC. This needs to occur within two years of the proposed license termination date. After the NRC receives the license termination plan, affected states, local communities and tribes may submit comments on the plan at a public meeting near the facility. The public also has the opportunity to request an adjudicatory hearing. Members of the public may observe any meeting the NRC holds with thecompany, unless the discussion involves proprietary, sensive, safeguarded or classified information.
Once public concerns are addressed, the NRC will terminate the license if all work has followed the approved license termination plan and the final radiation survey shows that the site is suitable for release. Most plans envision releasing the site to the public for unrestricted use, meaning any residual radiation would be below NRC’s limits of 25 millirem per year. This completes the decommissioning process.