Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chief warns that Commission is not geared for needs of decommissioning
Nuclear Agency Rules Are Ill-Suited for Plant Decommissioning, Leader Says NYT By MATTHEW L. WALDNOV. 17, 2014 WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rules are not geared for supervising the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, the task that will occupy much of its time in the coming years, the head of the agency, Allison M. Macfarlane, said Monday.
Speaking at the National Press Club in a wide-ranging look at her agency and the industry before she leaves the job at the end of the year, Dr. Macfarlane said the industry had instead set itself up about 15 years ago to oversee more reactor construction, a revival that did not occur. “The industry was really expecting to expand,” she said. “The agency’s not facing the future that five years ago people envisioned.”
Instead, a plunging price of natural gas and slack demand for electricity have made some existing plants uncompetitive, and the pace of retirements has been high. But the commission’s rules on areas like security and emergency planning are geared to operating plants, she said. So shut-down plants are applying for exemptions to the rules that no longer seem to fit the risk that the reactors pose when decommissioned.
As with nuclear waste, the commission’s rules on reactors seem more focused on construction and operation than on the “back end,” said Dr. Macfarlane, a geologist who is returning to academia.
In her comments, Dr. Macfarlane said that the future of a proposed nuclear waste repository near Las Vegas, blocked for years by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada as majority leader, was still far from assured, despite the coming change of party control in the Senate. The commission’s job would be to rule on whether the repository should be licensed, but it could never approve a license without “a willing applicant,” she said.
That applicant would be the Department of Energy, which dropped work on the project after a campaign promise by Barack Obama when he ran for president the first time.
To resume work on the proposed repository, at Yucca Mountain, the Energy Department and the commission would need a new appropriation, she said. And at the time work was stopped, in 2010, “there were more than 300 contentions challenging the application,” she said. Each must be argued before a panel of administrative law judges.
And even then, she noted, Yucca Mountain would not be big enough for all the waste.
In light of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011 in Japan, Dr. Macfarlane said that the commission should consider new rules on some reactors whose design does not resemble the ones that melted down in Japan. The commission has required older plants of the General Electric design to improve their systems for venting gases in an emergency, but perhaps other models should have to do the same, she said……..http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/us/nuclear-agency-rules-are-ill-suited-for-plant-decommissioning-leader-says.html?_r=0
Even the pro nukes know that burying dead nuclear reactors is a growing and massively costly problem
World Energy Outlook Warns Nuclear Industry On Decommissioning And Disposal 12 Nov (NucNet): The nuclear energy industry needs to be ready to manage “an unprecedented rate” of decommissioning with almost 200 of the 434 reactors that were operating commercially at the end of 2013 to be retired by 2040, a report by the International Energy Agency says. World Energy Outlook 2014 (WEO), released today in London, says “the vast majority” of these reactor retirements will be in the European Union, the US, Russia and Japan. … The IEA estimates the cost of decommissioning plants that are retired to be more than $100 billion.
Regulators and utilities need to continue to ensure that adequate funds are set aside to cover these future expenses, WEO says.
It also warns that all countries which have ever had nuclear generation facilities have an obligation to develop solutions for long-term storage.
In one scenario examined in WEO, the cumulative amount of spent nuclear fuel that has been generated (a significant portion of which becomes high-level radioactive waste) more than doubles, reaching 705,000 tonnes in 2040.
Today – 60 years since the first nuclear reactor started operating – no country has yet established permanent facilities for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste from commercial reactors, which continues to build up in temporary storage, WEO says..
Shutting down San Onofre to take 20 years, cost $4.4B, NRC says http://fox5sandiego.com/2014/10/28/shutting-down-san-onofre-to-take-20-years-cost-4-4b-nrc-says/ , OCTOBER 28, 2014, BY JAMIE CHAMBERS SAN DIEGO- IT WILL TAKE 20 YEARS AND COST $4.4 BILLION TO DECOMMISSION THE SAN ONOFRE NUCLEAR POWER STATION, REGULATORS SAY.
Activists and residents peppered the members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Monday with pointed questions about the decommissioning process. “How can you tell us a price when you can’t even tell us how long the waste will be there,” asked a woman at the meeting.
San Clemente resident Rochelle Becker said she thinks the process will end up costing much more than the commission’s estimate.
“The NRC has never met a budget. Why in the world should they now?” Becker asked rhetorically.
While the commission estimated that it would take 20 years to decommission the reactor, that doesn’t include removing the plant’s spent nuclear fuel rods. The spent nuclear waste will remain on the property for up to 100 years, under the current plan.
There is no federal nuclear waste storage site, so every nuclear reactor faces the same problem. At the end of their life cycle, nuclear power plant will become nuclear waste storage sites until that changes, according to the commission.
NUCLEAR-REACTOR SHIP HEADED TO GALVESTON TO BE SCRAPPED Kristi Nix, The Pasadena CitizenMonday, October 20, 2014 GALVESTON, TX –
Countdown to dismantling San Onofre UT San Diego By Morgan Lee .OCT. 13, 2014 Heavy work on dismantling the San Onofre nuclear plant may be just three months away.
Today, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission intends to set in motion the 90-day countdown for major decommissioning activities by confirming receipt of detailed plans for the project, known as a “post-shutdown decommissioning activities report,” from San Onofre operator Southern California Edison. The notice will be published in the Federal Register.
Edison wants to restore most of the Navy-owned site in northern San Diego County during the next 20 years, a relatively quick schedule. The federal government allows up to 60 years for decommissioning, so that high-level radiation can dissipate.
The commission will conduct a public meeting to discuss Edison’s decommissioning plan, cost estimates and related environmental impacts on Oct. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Omni La Costa in Carlsbad. Beyond the meeting, written comments on the dismantling issue are due to the agency by Dec. 22.
Edison said the job will cost about $4.4 billion. The company announced in June that enough money has been set aside in trust accounts over recent decades to pay for the project.
The utility company is seeking authority to tap decommissioning funds to pay for most San Onofre-related expenses since the facility’s retirement was announced in June 2013.
It also is asking for permission from state utility regulators to cease annual collections of $23 million from its customers that are meant for the trust accounts — and to refund at least $17 million of that money……..http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/oct/13/countdown-san-onofre-decomissioning/
Sweden plans big rise in fees to nuclear decommissioning fund http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/sweden-plans-big-rise-in-fees-to-nuclear-decommissioning-fund/articleshow/37335517.cms By Reuters | 27 Jun, 2014 OSLO: Sweden on Friday proposed a sharp rise in fees nuclear power producers have to pay the country’s nuclear decommissioning fund, saying previous cost estimates were too low.
Sweden has three nuclear power plants with ten reactors in operation, generating about 40 per cent of the country’s electricity needs. The oldest reactors are expected to be shut at the beginning of the next decade.
OSLO: Sweden on Friday proposed a sharp rise in fees nuclear power producers have to pay the country’s nuclear decommissioning fund, saying previous cost estimates were too low. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) said it has proposed raising fees by 73 per cent to 0.038 crowns ($0.01) per kilowatt-hour from 0.022 crowns for 2015.
It said the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) had to recalculate fees to the nuclear decommissioning fund for the period of 2016-2017.
“The SSM has assessed that the costs for decommissioning and final disposal for the Swedish nuclear power industry may be underestimated by SKB by at least 11 billion Swedish crowns ($1.63 billion),” the authority said in a statement.
Sweden’s state-owned utility Vattenfall operates seven reactors and Germany’s E.ON three. Finnish utility Fortum has stakes in six Swedish nuclear reactors.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing on Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 to assess the challenges of nuclear reactor decommissioning nationwide. Panelists called to testify at Wednesday’s senate hearing included Christopher Recchia, Public Service Department Commissioner of Vermont, Geoffrey Fettus, Senior attorney of NRDC, Donald Mosier, Council Member of the City of Del Mar, Michael Weber, Deputy Executive Director for Compliance Programs of NRC and Marvin Fertel, President & Chief Executive Officer of NEI.
Christopher Recchia’s testimony to the senate opposed a request by operators of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to discontinue off-site emergency planning after the reactor shuts down. He argued that the off-site emergency planning should continue after the reactor shuts down until all of the plant’s spent fuel rods are removed from pools and placed in dry cask storage. ……… Continue reading
Germany’s Gabriel says state won’t pay for nuclear decommissioning http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/05/18/uk-germany-energy-nuclear-idUKKBN0DY0EM20140518 BERLIN Sun May 18, (Reuters) - Germany‘s economy minister has joined Angela Merkel in rejecting talk that utilities might hand over responsibility for decommissioning Germany’s nuclear powerplants to a new public entity, as the projected costs of decommissioning rise.
“It should not be tax payers who pay for the clean-up of atomic waste but rather those who made money for decades through running nuclear power stations,” Sigmar Gabriel told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag in an interview published on Sunday.
Two sources told Reuters last weekend that utilities were in talks with the government about setting up a “bad bank” for nuclear plants, in response to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to close them all by 2022 after the Fukushima disaster.
The foundation would use provisions earmarked by the nuclear plant operators but would also take on the risk of unforeseen extra costs, effectively capping the utilities’ liability.
The Environment Ministry said last week the utilities bore full responsibility for safely decommissioning and dismantling the nine nuclear power plants still on the grid.
One of the sources had told Reuters that if the state takes over responsibility for the decommissioning, the utilities might be willing to drop their legal claims against the government for compensation for having to shut the plants. The four operators of nuclear plants in Germany – the German companies E.ON (EONGn.DE), RWE (RWEG.DE) and EnBW (EBKG.DE) and Sweden’s Vattenfall VATN.UL – have set aside total provisions of around 36 billion euros (29.3 billion pounds) for dismantling the plants and disposing of nuclear waste.
Germany’s Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday that government experts predicted a possible shortfall of 3.5 billion euros for the clean up, as costs had risen sharply. (Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Larry King)
A bad bank for nuclear, as public assumes risk for closure costs http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/a-bad-bank-for-nuclear-as-public-assumes-risk-for-closure-costs-39365 By Craig Morris on 16 May 2014 Energy Transition Over the weekend, there were reports of talks about the creation of a “bad bank” for German nuclear plants, which are to be shut down successively by the end of 2022.
Critics charge that the proposal is yet another attempt to privatize profits and nationalize losses. But Craig Morris has a bit more understanding for the firms’ position. At the end of February, the German hard coal sector made a proposal that revealed the sector’s actual situation: a bad bank. We continue to hear many reports about coal making a comeback in Germany, but in reality the uptick in 2013 will prove to be short-lived; coal power is already dramatically down in Q1 2014. And going forwards, hard coal in particular will be squeezed out even during the nuclear phaseout.
Now, the firms that run coal and nuclear plants think the idea might be useful to them during the nuclear phaseout. A quick glance at the idea is enough to make your hair stand on end, and the comments on German news websites (such as here – in German) are filled with outrage:
- The provisions set aside for the dismantling of the nuclear plants would be transferred to a state-owned foundation (the bad bank), which would then use the money for the phaseout.
- The government – meaning “the public” – would then run the risks, specifically if the costs exceed the provisions.
- In return, the power firms would drop their lawsuits against the German government with the ICSID (International Centre for Settlement and Disputes) settlements court in DC. Sweden’s Vattenfall has a minority holding in the Brokdorf nuclear plant in Germany along with Eon and is suing the German government in DC.
- Surprisingly, while Eon and EnBW (Vattenfall is apparently not involved in the negotiations for a bad bank) would be able to hand over their provisions, RWE would reportedly need a capital increase – has the firm spent its nuclear provisions on something else?
The case of Vattenfall is especially interesting. In the fall of 2010, the German government reneged on the original nuclear phaseout agreement of 2002 and extended the service lives of nuclear plants by 8 to 14 years, depending on the plant. In return, the government imposed a tax on the nuclear fuel rods to be consumed – allegedly to prevent windfall profits. But after Fukushima – only a few months later – those power plant extensions were revoked, but the tax remained.
In all likelihood, the four utilities agreed that the foreigner – Vattenfall, the one with the smallest nuclear assets – would “test the waters” and see whether a court case against the nuclear tax could be won. Last month, a German court ruled that the nuclear tax was illegal, so the current negotiations may be taking place against that backdrop.
There are, however, different readings of who wants what now. German economics daily Handelsblatt writes in its newsletter on Monday that “the government in Berlin wants to have the roughly 35 billion euros in nuclear provisions from Eon, RWE, EnBW, and Vattenfall,” the four utilities that run nuclear plants and Germany. This report in English at the Financial Times also makes it sound like the German government has plans of its own.
Technically, of course, the public already runs the risks. If anything goes wrong, the liability of these firms is limited. And while this limited liability has often been decried as unfair, we should keep in mind that the power firms themselves – from the US to Germany – never wanted to build nuclear plants. The nuclear power sector was originally an attempt to make the production of nuclear weapons more palatable to the public. The power sector wanted nothing to do with the technology, which they did not understand and did not trust. Once the government had limited their liability, they essentially began building the kind of power plants they understood but merely boiled the water with nuclear fuel rods instead of coal. Some 50 years ago, RWE in particular felt that nuclear would conflict with its fleet of coal plants. The result is hundreds of nuclear plants of crappy design, with numerous design options having barely been investigated.
The German government thus forced these companies into nuclear decades ago and now it is forcing them out. All of this is unfair to these firms. It’s also unfair to the German public, which never asked for nuclear power but has to pay for the entire mess. Whatever the outcome, perhaps the main argument against nuclear is that it’s hard to do it fairly.
Decommissioning Of Zion Nuclear Plant Raises Safety Concerns ZION, Ill. (CBS) 15 May 14. — It’s the largest closing of a nuclear plant in the United States, and it’s right in our backyard. The most critical and dangerous part of the process at Zion is underway right now with the transfer of used nuclear fuel. CBS 2’s Jim Williams is the only local TV reporter allowed inside to see firsthand what’s going on and to get answers to concerns about safety in this original report. For us, it was a first: an interview right next to a worker holding a radiation detector………….
The plant stopped operating 16 years ago, but what was left behind is so toxic robots were brought in.
“You don’t want men in there using hand tools and torches,” said Sauger.
By train and truck, they’re shipping the less hazardous material to Texas, Tennessee and Utah where it will be buried.
Dan Pryor is the project manager. He described the less hazardous material as “filters, rags, mops; things that might have been in contact with radiated material and might be contaminated.”
But spent nuclear fuel that had been in this cooling pool is being placed in steel cylinders called casks and then encased in concrete. Dave Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service said, “We call this the nuclear bowling alley,” because all 65 casks will end up together above ground next to the old plant.
Kraft fears they could be a prime target for terrorists in a plane.
“If you have a huge fire from a burning airliner for example, It’s going to affect everything around,” said Kraft.
Kraft and Paul Kakuris, of the Dunesland Preservation Society worry the casks could break open, releasing radiation across the Chicago area and poisoning the Lake.
“We are at risk here. This is the water supply for 20 million people,” said Kakuris………Today, the casks are surrounded by high fences and razor wire. Heavily armed security guards are everywhere there. Still, it’s not enough to satisfy the critics.
“You only get one chance to be wrong,” said Kraft.
Another safety concern is how will those steel and concrete casks hold up over time before a permanent storage site is created? The nuclear regulatory commission expects them to be replaced in 100 years. But, environmentalists fear those casks may wind up sitting there next to Lake Michigan for much longer than that. http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/05/14/decommissioning-of-zion-nuclear-plant-raises-safety-concerns/
Del Mar Councilman To Testify At Senate Hearing On Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning http://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/may/12/del-mar-councilman-testifies-senate-hearing-decomm/, May 12, 2014 By Alison St John U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, will convene a hearing Wednesday morning in Washington D.C., to look at the challenges of decommissioning nuclear reactors nationwide.
One of the five panelists called to testify is Del Mar City Councilman Don Mosier. Mosier, a biologist at the Scripps Research Institute, said he has concerns about continuing to store 4,000 tons of radioactive waste at San Onofre. The plant, 50 miles north of San Diego, was shut down in 2013 after a small radioactive leak was discovered in the steam generators in 2012.
“When the reactors were closed, we hoped that some of the safety concerns about San Onofre would be diminished,” Mosier said, “but I actually think they’re increased because of the lack of planning for storing all this radioactivity.“
Mosier said he has questions about the spent fuel pools and dry cask storage at San Onofre that were not designed for the kind of “high burn-up” fuel that will be stored there. High burn-up fuel (HBF ) is hotter and more radioactive than previously used fuel rods.
Mosier said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that oversaw San Onofre when it was in operation, does not have the same level of regulatory authority over the decommissioning process.
“I feel in the absence of federal oversight, one of the things I am going to argue for is more state and local control of the decommissioning process,” Mosier said.
A Citizens’ Engagement Committee set up by Edison, the company that operates San Onofre, is not the independent oversight Mosier hopes to see.
Other panel members at Wednesday’s Senate hearing include Michael Weber, NRC deputy director for waste compliance programs, and Geoffrey Fettus of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
ISSUES INVOLVING STORAGE AND TRANSPORTATION OF HIGH BURNUP NUCLEAR FUEL DECOMMISSION SAN ONOFRE By Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D.SCE Community Engagement Panel (CEP) San Juan Capistrano Community Center May 6, 2014 “……… I’m going to briefly discuss transportation and storage of nuclear fuel, and I’m going to focus on high burnup nuclear fuel (HBF). What and why is HBF? NRC has not fully investigated the technical issues and implications, which in my view, are major and should have required careful study and an EIS. This is work that should have been done before the NRC allowed utilities to go to high burnup, not after. By high burnup, I mean fuel greater than 45 GWD/MTU, but in clearer terms, allowing each assembly to remain in the reactor longer. The implications are the radioactive inventory in HBF is greater.
NRC staff have focused on the heat in HBF, which is greater. But heat will decline over time. One implication is decommissioning will take longer. Fuel will sit in fuel pool for 20 years or more. San Onofre has high burnup fuel. The implication of a longer decay time is that the workers at the site will not be available for the decom process. Putting more fuel into the same space, moving from 24 fuel assemblies to 32, as Southern California Edison intends to do, will further the cooling off period. However, while heat is an important consideration, but perhaps of greater import is the impact on fuel cladding. It may surprise you to know that the NRC does not know how much HBF exists across the country. While the NRC has the power and the ability to identify how much HBF is at each reactor. The NRC has inspectors at each reactor. They simply have not made the effort. The Department of Energy (DOE) is conducting a survey which should be released in September. HBF has major implications for decommissioning, storage, transportation and disposal.
• Little technical support for NRC approval of high burnup fuel (HBF). Experiment taking place in the field.
• Total amount of HBF unknown. At a minimum, the NRC should survey utilities.
• HBF will postpone storage up to 20 years; 32 PWR canister extends cooldown period.
• Cladding defects are a major problem for HBF; HBF may not be retrievable. HBF should be canned.
• Because of corrosion, long-term storage may not be possible in a salt environment.
• Side impact rail accidents may shatter HBF cladding.
• Long duration, high temperature fires may involve oil tankers that travel the same tracks. NRC has not properly quantified the statistical likelihood.
The rising cost of decommissioning a nuclear power plant Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dan Drollette Jr 30 April 14“……. The Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Rowe, Massachusetts, took 15 years to decommission—or five times longer than was needed to build it. And decommissioning the plant—constructed early in the 1960s for $39 million—cost $608 million. The plant’s spent fuel rods are still stored in a facility on-site, because there is no permanent disposal repository to put them in. To monitor them and make sure the material does not fall into the hands of terrorists or spill into the nearby river costs $8 million per year. That cost will continue for an unknown number of years. David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that even without the ongoing costs of monitoring and security, the average reactor now costs about $500 million to deactivate……..
Westinghouse backs out of Small Modular Reactor market Enformable Nuclear News Lucas W Hixson http://enformable.com/2014/02/westinghouse-backs-small-modular-reactor-market/Danny Roderick, President and CEO of Westinghouse announced that the nuclear firm is backing off of research and development of their Small Modular Reactor design. The Westinghouse design is a scaled down version of the AP1000 reactor, designed to produce 225 MWe, which could power 45,000 residential houses.
In December, the firm was passed over for a second time by the United States Department of Energy’s SMR commercialization program. Roderick clarified the issue and noted that it was not the deployment of the technology that posed the biggest problem – it was that there were no customers. “The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market,” he added
According to Roderick, unless Westinghouse was capable of producing 30 to 50 small modular reactors, there was no way that the firm would return its investment in the development project. In the end, given the lack of market, and the similar lack of federal funding, Westinghouse was unable to justify the economics of small modular reactors at this point.
Westinghouse was working with St. Louis-based Ameren, which had indicated its desire to build a new reactor near the State’s only existing nuclear reactor – the Calloway nuclear power plant, if a federal investment could be secured.
Westinghouse will focus its attentions on its decommissioning business, which is a $1 billion dollar per year business for the firm – which is equivalent to Westinghouse’s new reactor construction business, and rededicate its staff to the AP1000 reactor design.
Analysts are monitoring how the companies who did receive funding from the Department of Energy perform as they evolve. Source: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazett
Nuclear decommissioning A glowing review Britain is paying dearly for neglecting its nuclear waste, The Economist, Apr 5th 2014 SWILLING around murky ponds in the oldest part of Sellafield, a nuclear research and reprocessing centre in Cumbria, is a soupy, radioactive sludge. For years boffins working on Britain’s first military and civil nuclear programmes abandoned spent fuel and other nastiness into the pools and tanks, which now grow decrepit. Though perhaps not the “slow-motion Chernobyl” which some environmental campaigners make out, the site is subject to one of the most complex nuclear clean-ups in the world.
Sellafield is the trickiest of several challenges facing the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), a government body that manages the contractors who swab out Britain’s defunct facilities. Their projects swallow up about two-thirds of the budget of the Department of Energy and Climate Change; Sellafield alone costs £1.7 billion ($2.8 billion) a year, almost as much as the roughly £2 billion spent subsidising renewable energy in 2013. On March 31st NDA awarded a £7 billion contract to decommission 12 more of Britain’s oldest reactor sites over 14 years to a consortium including Babcock, a British engineering firm, and Fluor, an American one.These big sums reflect problems peculiar to Britain. It ploughed into nuclear bomb-making in the 1940s, and nuclear power in the 1950s, with little plan for how contaminated structures would be dealt with. …….
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