New transport cask used at Vermont Yankee

At left is the new transport cask being used to ship radioactive parts from the Vermont Yankee reactor to a low-level radioactive waste site in west Texas.

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VERNON — One of NorthStar Vermont Yankee's decommissioning partners is using a new cask it designed to transport some of the the higher level radioactive waste from Vermont to Texas.

Orano, an international company that is partnering with NorthStar on the Yankee demolition and clean up, said last week it is now using its new transport cask, in addition to its special shielded and reinforced boxes, to ship the relatively high level radioactive parts from the reactor to the low-level radioactive waste site in west Texas owned by Waste Control Specialists.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Region One, said the Orano casks are used to transport low-level radioactive materials with high dose rates."We reviewed this cask and determined that it significantly exceeds the safety requirements for a low-level waste shipping package, since it is licensed to ship high-level waste," he said.

Curtis Roberts, a spokesman for Orano, said the Orano-designed cask would be used along with the reinforced boxes it has been using to handle most of the waste from the reactor internals. He said it depends on the size and level of radioactivity to determine which protective materials to use.

Roberts said the company, which is partnering with NorthStar on the demolition of Yankee, in particular the reactor internals, expects to complete its portion of the job by mid-2021. The overall demolition and clean up of Vermont Yankee is expected to be completed by 2026. That is decades ahead of the original schedule set by Entergy Nuclear, which sold Vermont Yankee to NorthStar in January 2019.

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According to Roberts, the decommissioning is on schedule and on budget. He declined to say how much the new cask cost, saying it is proprietary information, and also declined to say whether the new cask would save the companies money.

Once the cask containing parts of the reactor got to the Texas waste facility, the load was transferred to a disposal cask, permanently sealed and placed for permanent storage, he said. It was shipped by rail from Vernon.

"We are continuing to closely follow progress on the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee and have observed no significant safety issues to date. Our inspections and licensing reviews focused on dismantlement and removal activities at the plant, including the packaging and shipment of reactor vessel internals, will take place until the decommissioning process reaches its conclusion. Afterwards, we will continue to perform inspections of the independent spent fuel storage installation until such time that the fuel is removed from the site," he said.

No date has been given for the removal of the spent nuclear fuel, which is considered high level waste.Earlier this summer, a transfer cask for low-level radioactive waste en route to Vernon tipped over on Route 11 in Andover, Vt., causing a lengthy recovery operation. Roberts said that was a transfer cask for use on the Vernon site, and not a transport cask, which takes the waste to Texas.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.