Entergy chooses SAFSTOR for VY decommissioning

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BRATTLEBORO -- Entergy Vermont Yankee announced early Friday morning that as a result of its site assessment study for the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant in Vernon, it has selected the SAFSTOR remediation option authorized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The site assessment study also revealed cost for cleaning up the site is more than expected, at $1.24 billion. Currently, the decommissioning trust fund contains $642,550,813, down from last month's high of $653,292,191.

According to the study, the earliest clean up of the site could begin is 2053, but Mike Twomey, Entergy vice president for external affairs, said that date is a worse-case scenario using the conservative estimates the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires the industry to use when estimating a timeline for decommissioning activities.

The NRC requires power plant operators to assume a "zero recovery" from the Department of Energy for spent fuel handling and storage costs.

"But we've had 90 percent recovery from DOE," said Twomey. "If you change the estimates to the actual level we have achieved, that date changes to the 2040s."

In 2012, Entergy was awarded $88 million for spent fuel handling and storage costs. It recently filed for further reimbursement.

The state had hoped Entergy could begin decommissioning of the site perhaps as soon as all the fuel was moved out of the spent fuel pool, in 2020, but the site assessment released Friday punctured that notion.

Twomey said another reason for the delayed start date for decommissioning is the NRC's requirement that when calculating fund growth, a power plant operator can use only a 2 percent rate of return. However, he said, over the last five years the rate of return for the trust fund for Vermont Yankee has been around 9 percent a year.

"We did not try to prognosticate the fund," said Twomey, "but if you assume a better than 2 percent rate of return we could begin sometime in the 2030s."

The cost of decommissioning increases at about 4 percent a year, he added.

"We are not trying to pinpoint a date for decommissioning," said Twomey, but given the rate of return, the fund is increasing faster than cleanup costs are increasing.

The site assessment and a draft Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report submitted with it detail the steps that need to be taken to return the site to full use. The documents include everything from deconstruction of buildings to disassembly of the reactor vessel. While most of the structures and systems at Yankee will be removed and shipped to a storage facility in Texas, some remnants of the power plant will remain.

These include "large concrete piping, located at a depth greater than 20 feet" and subsurface portions of the power blocks buildings below three fee of grade. Any spaces that remain will be filled with gravel from off-site sources, according to the documents.

It is unlikely, said Barrett Green, chief financial officer for Entergy Wholesale Commodities and point man on the ground for the decommissioning process at Yankee, that any portion of the site will be released for unlimited use prior to complete decommissioning of the site.

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"We were more optimistic when we started this process," said Green. "After conducting reviews of other sites, we became less optimistic that any portion of the site can be released early."

According to NRC regulations, by choosing the SAFSTOR option, Entergy could take up to 60 years to clean up the site, which has been home to the nuclear power plant since 1972.

In August 2013, Entergy announced that the Vermont Yankee would not be refueled and would cease operations at the end of its current operating cycle in late 2014. In December 2013, a settlement was reached between Entergy and the state that, among other things, included commitments that Yankee would cease operation by the end of 2014 and that Entergy would prepare a site assessment study. The site assessment study is intended to provide a basis for discussion about what will become of Yankee.

Another reason for choosing the SAFSTOR option, said Twomey, is to allow time for the plant and its components to "cool down." This reduces the volume of waste contaminated by radiation from 533,780 feet to 38,630 feet, according to the site assessment. Waiting for the radiation level to drop also makes it safer for workers to decommission the plant, he said.

Chris Recchia, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said the cost estimate is about what the state expected. He was also not surprised by the dates presented in the site assessment.

"They are a worse-case scenario because of NRC regulation," said Recchia. "I am optimistic that working constructively and cooperatively with Entergy we will be able to advance the state's interests considerably."

The site assessment will be officially presented to the public on Oct. 30 when the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel meets again, at a location yet to be identified.

Recchia said first and foremost for the state is expediting the removal of spent fuel from the spent fuel pool and into dry cask storage.

"Everything becomes easier than that," he said.

Recchia also noted that the question of how deep to excavate has yet to be resolved.

"We have an agreement to negotiate site restoration. We haven't started that. We will negotiate all site restoration standards, including the below-grade issue."

The $1.24 billion cost estimate includes $817 million for costs associated with terminating the NRC operating license, $368 million for spent fuel management and $57 million for site restoration. However, Entergy must receive NRC approval to use any of the decommissioning trust fund for spent fuel management.

"We have assumed that we will get this exemption and we think that is a very reasonable assumption," said Green. "Dominion/Kewaunee's request for a similar exemption was just approved. We have to file the PSDAR and cost study first because we need to reference them in our justification of why we should get the exemption."

ENVY has launched a website that contains the site assessment study and additional information about the nuclear plant's decommissioning plan. To learn more, visit vydecommissioning.com.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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