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60 years to decommission the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear site

Closing TMI: How to secure the infamous nuclear power site and why it might take 60 years  https://www.ydr.com/story/news/2019/06/19/closing-three-mile-island-tmi-safe-exelon-decades-cost/1352558001/

Sam Ruland, York Daily Record June 19, 2019    The mountainous cooling towers atop the island floating in the Susquehanna River have become part of the landscape in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Three Mile Island, an icon of the industry and the site of America’s worst nuclear disaster, was once a popular tourist destination as travelers made their way through central Pennsylvania.

But the visitor center at TMI has been closed for years now, and the billowing steam from the iconic towers will soon fade to nothing as the plant awaits its doomed fate.

Exelon Generation plans to shut down the Three Mile Island reactor by the end of September after a $500 million proposal to rescue Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry failed to gain support.

When it closes, TMI’s Unit 1 reactor will be as stagnant as its parallel, Unit 2, which has been sitting inactive since its partial meltdown in 1979. But even as operations cease, the towers could loom large for decades — it could take nearly 60 years and $1.2 billion to decommission the Dauphin County plant, with nuclear waste sitting in storage between the two units’ cooling towers.

Exelon Generation filed a report with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April, outlining a tentative schedule for the decommissioning activities and expanding on what a future without the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant would look like.

Here are some highlights from the original proposal along with updates from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Will TMI really take 60 years to decommission?

It could. Federal regulations give plant operators up to 60 years to clean up a site after the plant closes.

According to Exelon’s Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, the company has chosen the SAFSTOR method for decommissioning the plant. It’s one of the three federally allowed options for decommissioning a nuclear power plant in the United States and is also known as the “deferred dismantling” method.

“Radioactive decay occurs during the SAFSTOR period, thereby lowering the level of contamination and radioactivity that must be disposed of during decontamination and dismantlement,” Exelon said.

It also leaves time for the trust fund to pay for the dismantling to grow.

How can TMI’s owners accelerate the decommissioning process?

Companies such as Holtec International and Westinghouse Electric Co. are interested in buying up closing plants so they can disassemble them promptly and keep what is left in the decommissioning trust fund when the process is complete.

These specialist companies typically plan to decommission and restore the plant site more quickly than the industry-standard plan that could span more than six decades. In some cases, Holtec has said it can decommission a plant in eight years.

But Exelon said it has no plans to sell the plant, meaning it plans to handle the decommissioning itself using the SAFSTOR method.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said most U.S. nuclear plants now on a fast-track decommissioning schedule originally opted for the SAFSTOR method before reaching deals with specialist companies.

What happens to the fuel and other radioactive materials?

Unit 1’s nuclear fuel would immediately be removed from the reactor after shutdown. Exelon plans to build an independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) to hold spent fuel in the middle of the current plant, between the two units’ cooling towers. The uranium fuel rods would cool in spent fuel pools until being moved to dry storage canisters that will be installed on site in 2022.

But if Exelon sticks to its SAFSTOR approach, the reactor’s cooling towers and other major components would remain standing until 2074. And by 2078, all radioactive material would be safely stored or removed from the site.

So really, $1.2 billion?

That’s what Exelon expects the cost of the total decommissioning and restoration of Unit 1 to be. And if you thought that was a lot, the damaged Unit 2, owned by FirstEnergy Corp., is expected to cost an additional $1.27 billion to fully decommission.

Where does that money come from?

The decommissioning’s $1.2 billion cost would be financed from a trust fund the power plant’s customers have paid into since the plant became operational in 1974.

Unit 1’s fund has almost $670 million in it currently. Exelon spokeswoman Liz Williamson said the trust fund should fully cover the expected cost of $1.2 billion for decommissioning.

If there were a shortfall in the fund, Exelon would be responsible for the rest.

The decommissioning of the damaged Unit 2 reactor, TMI Unit 2, would be paid from a separate trust fund, which has accumulated to about $834 million.

How many people will lose their jobs because of this?

Once the plant is shutdown, employment at TMI will plummet from the current staff of about 650 to 300 employees by the end of year as the plant becomes a storage site.

And when the on-site dry storage building is completed in 2022, employment will drop again to about 56, with most of the remaining jobs being focused on security.

At this rate, the final cleanup and restoration of the site may not be complete until 2079— a century after its infamous disaster.

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June 20, 2019 - Posted by | decommission reactor, USA

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