Forked River — With the sale of the now defunct Oyster Creek Generating Station complete, its new owners plan to kickstart the immediate decommissioning of what was once the oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant in the nation. Part of those plans include beginning to move nuclear waste from the spent fuel pool before the end of the typical five-year cooling-off period.
Under its decommissioning plans, Holtec Decommissioning International, which assumed operator status for the decommissioning of the Lacey Township-based nuclear plant July 1 when the deal with Exelon Generation was finalized, will move used fuel from its place in the spent nuclear pool to an onsite dry storage facility after the nuclear waste has cooled for 2½ years. All of the Oyster Creek’s used nuclear fuel was moved to its spent fuel pool in September 2018, about a week after plant ceased operations for good.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized the moving of spent fuel to dry storage as early as three years after it was moved to the spent fuel pool. The industry average, according to the NRC, is 10 years.
“Our primary goal is to decommission Oyster Creek safely and with the community’s best interests in mind,” Kris Singh, Holtec president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared, joint statement with Exelon Generation officials July 1.
Jeff Tittel, the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, disagrees.
“The company says their cask storage design is proprietary, which is an excuse not to let the public know how they are going to do this,” Tittel said. “This raises even bigger concerns. Holtec needs to prove to us that doing it in half the time will be safe.”
As with other shuttered nuclear power plants, spent nuclear fuel will remain onsite at Oyster Creek until such a time as there is either an interim repository or a permanent one, like Yucca Mountain was expected to be.
The NRC is still reviewing an application from Holtec International to build and operate phase one of an interim repository on approximately 1,040 acres of land in Lea County, N.M.
Holtec is asking for the authorization to store 5,000 metric tons of uranium (MTUs) in roughly 500 spent nuclear fuel canisters under a 40-year license. The 500 canisters have the potential to hold up to 8,680 MTUs from various commercial nuclear reactors as well as a small amount of spent mixed-oxide fuel.
Should Holtec clear the first hurdle and be licensed for phase one, it is fully expected they will ask for additional amendments to its license to expand the storage capacity at the New Mexico facility, according to Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 office. Under its proposal, the company would expand the facility in 19 subsequent phases, each for an additional 500 canisters, to be completed over the course of 20 years, Sheehan has said.
“Protecting the health and safety of employees, the community and the environment has been a central focus for Oyster Creek throughout its operating history,” Pierre Oneid, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for Holtec, said recently. “This will continue throughout decommissioning with safety being the focus in everything we do.”
Holtec has retained more than 200 Oyster Creek employees to begin the decommissioning process. Specialized industry personnel will join the decommissioning efforts at various stages, similar to how refueling outages were conducted. Officials from Holtec and Lacey Township believe the decommissioning process will have a positive economic impact on the community.
“Holtec has been open and transparent in communicating with us and we look forward to supporting and working with them to do what’s best for our community,” Lacey Township Mayor Tim McDonald said recently.
With the Oyster Creek license transfer successfully in place, Holtec officials are turning their attention to the sale of the Massachusetts-based Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which is also expected to be finalized during the third quarter. The Plymouth-based nuclear plant was shuttered less than a month ago. Its license transfer application was filed on Nov. 16, 2018.
In addition to Pilgrim, Holtec also has agreements to purchase other Energy Nuclear Operations-owned power plants, including Indian Point, Palisades and the independent spent fuel storage facility located at Big Rock Point.
— Gina G. Scala