Tag Archives: decommissioning nuclear power plants

How to Make Money out of the Nuclear Waste Mess

Companies specializing in the handling of radioactive material are buying retired U.S. nuclear reactors from utilities and promising to clean them up and demolish them in dramatically less time than usual — eight years instead of 60, in some cases.  Turning nuclear plants over to outside companies and decommissioning them on such a fast track represents a completely new approach in the United States, never before carried to completion in this country, and involves new technology as well…

Once a reactor is shut down, the radioactive mess must be cleaned up, spent nuclear fuel packed for long-term storage and the plant itself dismantled. The most common approach can last decades, with the plant placed in a long period of dormancy while radioactive elements slowly decay.  Spent fuel rods that can no longer sustain a nuclear reaction remain radioactive and still generate substantial heat. They are typically placed in pools of water to cool, staying there for at least five years, with 10 years the industry norm, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After that, they are removed and placed in giant cylindrical casks, typically made of steel and encased in concrete.

But Holtec International, which in the past year has been buying up several retired or soon-to-be-retired nuclear plants in the U.S., has designed a cask it says can accept spent fuel after only two years of cooling.  Holtec struck a deal last year to buy Oyster Creek in Forked River, New Jersey, from its owner, Exelon Generation.  It also has deals in place to buy several plants owned by Entergy Corp., including: Pilgrim, in historic Plymouth, Massachusetts, closing May 31; Palisades, in Covert, Michigan, set to shut down in 2022 ; and two reactors expected to close within two years at Indian Point in Buchanan, New York….  NorthStar Group Services, a specialist in nuclear demolition, completed the purchase of Vermont Yankee from Entergy with plans for its accelerated decommissioning.

The companies jumping into the business believe they can make in profit….Holtec will inherit the multibillion-dollar decommissioning trust funds set up by the utilities for the plants’ eventual retirement. , The company would be able to keep anything left over in each fund after the plant’s cleanup. By Holtec’s accounting, for instance, the Pilgrim decommissioning will cost an estimated $1.13 billion, leaving $3.6 million in the fund.  Holtec and Northstar are also banking on the prospect of recouping money from the federal government for storing spent fuel during and after the decommissioning, because there is no national disposal site for high-level nuclear waste…

Holtec has come under scrutiny over its role in a mishap in August 2018 during the somewhat less aggressive decommissioning of the San Onofre plant in Southern California, where two reactors were retired in 2013 and the estimated completion date is 2030….Holtec contractors were lowering a 45-ton spent fuel cask into an underground storage vault at San Onofre when it became misaligned and nearly plunged 18 feet, investigators said. No radiation was released.  Federal regulators fined Southern California Edison, the plant’s owner, $116,000, and an investigation found that some Holtec procedures had been inadequate or not properly followed.

BOB SALSBERG , Speedy reactor cleanups may carry both risks and rewards, Associated Press, May 21, 2019

Dismantling Nuclear Reactors at Fukushima

In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Naraha decided to oppose nuclear energy and call for the closure of the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant that it co-hosts on the coast of the prefecture.  Since the 1970s, the town has been home to the No. 2 plant, which first went into service in 1982.  For decades, Naraha has received central government grants and subsidies for hosting the No. 2 plant, as well as tax revenues from TEPCO and its affiliates operating in the town.The plant also employed 860 people, many of them from Naraha and its surrounding communities.

Naraha had a population of about 8,000 before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011. The crippled plant is located within 20 kilometers from Nahara.  The quake and tsunami also created a scare at the No. 2 plant by leaving the facility with only a limited power supply from external sources and emergency diesel generators to cool the reactors. But the plant brought the situation under control.

After long remaining silent about the fate of the No. 2 plant, TEPCO decided to retire all of its four reactors, which were approaching their legal operating limit of 40 years. If the power company wanted to continue operations at the plant, it would have to spend hundreds of billions of yen on upgrades to meet the more stringent safety standards that were set after the accident at the No. 1 plant…

Although Naraha and Tomioka officials share concerns about their municipalities’ financial futures, they see a silver lining in the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.  Both towns have served as front-line bases for workers involved in decommissioning of the stricken plant.  About 5,000 workers a day who are involved in the decommissioning effort provide steady business for convenience stores and other shops in the two towns. Business hotels, dorms and apartment buildings have been built in the towns and neighboring communities to accommodate the workers. Work to dismantle the No. 1 plant is expected to take decades to complete. Local officials said the closure of the No. 2 plant could bring about a similar economic boon. “Decommissioning can become a major industry,” Naraha Mayor Matsumoto said.

Excerpts from  Nuclear plant closure brings hope, despair to Fukushima town
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, October 18, 2018

Nuclear Power in South Korea

South Korea, one of the world’s largest nuclear electricity producers, will scrap plans to add nuclear power plants, its president said on June 19, 2017, signaling a shift in decades of reliance on nuclear energy.  President Moon Jae-in said South Korea will move away from nuclear energy and will not seek to extend the life of existing plants.  He also vowed to cut South Korea’s reliance on coal. South Korea will shut 10 old coal power plants and stop building more coal power plants.

“So far South Korea’s energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public’s life and safety took a backseat,” Moon said at a ceremony marking the shutdown of the country’s oldest power plant, Kori 1, in Busan, home to South Korea’s largest cluster of nuclear power plants. “But it’s time for a change.”

The speech was Moon’s followup on his presidential campaigns to cut coal and nuclear power. Greenpeace and other environmental groups welcomed Moon’s announcement.

Since the Kori 1 reactor went online in 1978, the resource poor-country added 24 nuclear power plants to meet rising demand for electricity from rapid industrialization and economic development. In 2016, a third of electricity in South Korea was produced from nuclear power plants. Its nuclear power production from 25 nuclear plants in 2016 was the fifth-largest in the world, according to the World Nuclear Association.

South Korea is also one of the few countries that have exported its nuclear reactor technology… building a nuclear reactor in United Arab Emirates.

But South Koreans’ enthusiasm for nuclear energy quickly waned following the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns in its neighbor Japan. In the following year, fake parts scandals prompted an investigation and spread fear over nuclear plants’ safety. Recent earthquakes in southeastern South Korea also dented public support in the country that was long believed to be safe from earthquakes. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently.

To decommission the Kori 1 reactor, South Korea plans to invest developing its own decommissioning technology and experts in the area. The decommissioning will take at least 15 years and cost 643.7 billion won ($569 million or 64 billion yen), the energy ministry said.

Nuclear Waste at Hinkley Point: worst case scenario

Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year.The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped…

[The government]  released a “Nuclear Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology Notification Paper”. Marked “commercial in confidence”, it states that “unlimited exposure to risks relating to the costs of disposing of their waste in a GDF [geological disposal facility], could not be accepted by the operator as they would prevent the operator from securing the finance necessary to undertake the project”.

Instead the document explains that there will be a “cap on the liability of the operator of the nuclear power station which would apply in a worst-case scenario”. It adds: “The UK government accepts that, in setting a cap, the residual risk, of the very worst-case scenarios where actual cost might exceed the cap, is being borne by the government.”Separate documents confirm that the cap also applies should the cost of decommissioning the reactor at the end of its life balloo….Hinkley Point C developers face £7.2bn cleanup bill at end of nuclear plant’s life

Excerpt from Secret government papers show taxpayers will pick up costs of Hinkley nuclear waste storage, The Guardian, Oct. 30, 2016

Costs of Closing Down Nuclear Plants

According to Callan Investment Institute, underfunded decommissioning costs could amount to $23 billion from investor-owned utilities.  The industry has already set aside $50 billion to fund specific trust funds designated exclusively for decommissioning expenses, mostly collected from ratepayers….

As part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioning and licensing of a power plant, the plant owners establish a trust fund, known as the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust, or NDT. The sole purpose of this trust fund is to provide funds for the cost to decommission the facility when that time comes. The owners contribute annually to the fund, in relationship to the percent ownership, based on projected costs and length of the license. The companies are the final backstop to shortfalls in funding to these trusts.

The origin of the capital for fund contributions is from customer rate cases – in other words, NDT funding is part of our monthly electric bills. Owners are required to review annually and submit every two years to the NRC both the fund balance and cost estimates for decommissioning. The NRC provides a formula of costs for operators to compare with the balances on the NDT, or the companies can file site-specific cost projections for each facility.

The total industry-wide decommissioning costs are estimated by Callan to be $80 billion….[For instance] Entergy, according to the study, their NDT could be short by about $2 billion and to make up this difference over the average life remaining of their licenses, management should be setting aside $186 million a year rather than the $39 million currently. However, ETR is not alone in the study. The industry contributed $315 million in 2013 when Callan calculates the amount should be closer to $1.6 billion. Below are some shortfall numbers for the five largest nuclear power generators,…

According to Callan, Exelon has potential net deficiencies of $7.7 billion including Constellation Energy; Duke has a potential net deficiency of $2.3 billion; Entergy of $2.0 billion; Dominion Resources  of $1.3 billion; and NextEra has a potential surplus of $208 million. Combined, the largest five producers of nuclear power have a potential decommissioning deficit of $13.1 billion, or 57% of the projected total industry-wide.

Excerpts from George Fisher, A $23 Billion Potential Shortfall For 27 Utilities With Nuclear Power Plants, Seeking Alpha,May. 15, 2015

Full Study (pdf)