Total nuclear decommissioning cost estimates rise by 44%

Following a two year period of shock nuclear power plant closures, the US nuclear industry will spend 2016 preparing to take the next steps in managing the shutdown of four reactors, amounting to over 3100 MWe.

Image credit: Tolgart

With Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activity Reports (PSDAR) now completed, moving spent fuel, engaging with external stakeholders and managing initial decommissioning activities will dominate the top of the priority list over the next year.

Coming as somewhat of a disappointment for the nuclear industry, only SONGS has opted to take a DECON approach, whilst Crystal River, Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee will be left in SAFSTOR for up to sixty years. Management of nuclear decommissioning trust funds (NDT) has been highlighted as one of the main reasons for the delayed start to decommissioning. According to Callan Investment Institute, underfunded decommissioning costs could amount to $23 billion from investor-owned utilities. This shortfall not only affects the utilities themselves, but impacts the industry as a whole. Delaying demolition and dismantlement of nuclear power reactors means first-hand knowledge of the plants is lost and robust supply chains collapse in the interim period.

Another key challenge for shuttered plants is moving and storing spent fuel. Aside from when it should be moved and the issues linked to storing high burn up fuel, public discontent surrounding offsite emergency planning for Interim Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSIs) creates tension with external stakeholders.

And managing used fuel is not just an issue for shuttered plants. With spent fuel pools reaching maximum capacity at many US nuclear power plants (NPPs), utilities have to rely on holding their used fuel in ISFSIs whilst a long-term solution is sought. Originally licensed for 20 years, a vast number of ISFSIs are reaching the end of this period and will be submitting relicensing approvals to the NRC over the next 5 years. A comprehensive aging management strategy is crucial to achieving licence renewal for ISFSIs and much R&D work is currently underway into key issues such as the impact of storing high burn-up fuel, effective monitoring and stress corrosion cracking.

The fact that spent fuel is still being stored at NPPs instead of being moved to a deep geological repository highlights that the final storage dispute is still no closer to being resolved. However, the beginning of this year witnessed the industry itself pushing forwards with alternative options, namely the Holtec and Eddy-Lea partnership and the WCS and AREVA alliance proposing interim storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico. This innovation may well have created a brand new option for storing spent fuel away from nuclear power plants.

WCS, AREVA, Holtec, Callan Institute and 40+ more expert speakers from the likes of the NRC, DOE, Exelon, Entergy, Duke, Dominion, Ontario Power Generation, PG&E, Ameren and FENOC will meet in October at The Nuclear Decommissioning & Used Fuel Strategy Summit (5-6 October, Charlotte NC).

Addressing all of the above challenges and much more, this is the US’ largest meeting point for the nuclear decommissioning and used fuel industries. Get the full agenda, speaker line up and detailed program right here: