BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- Following Tuesday's announcement that Entergy will be shutting down Vermont Yankee in late 2014, the question on many people's minds was how long will it take to clean up the site.
During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Entergy representatives said following reactor shutdown, the plant will be placed in SAFSTOR, which is defined as a process whereby a nuclear facility is placed and maintained in a condition that allows it to be safely secured, monitored and stored. According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations, once a SAFSTOR plan is approved, a utility has up to 60 years to complete remediation of a site.
"Full decommissioning is a long process that could take decades," said Jeff Forbes, Entergy's chief nuclear officer.
Following shutdown, fuel will be taken from the reactor and stored in the spent fuel pool or dry casks on site. During that time, the facility will be maintained and kept secure, said Forbes.
"Then we will monitor and safeguard until the fuel is removed or the Department of Energy fulfills its contractual obligations," he said.
Further details of decommissioning are not yet available, said Forbes, but the company will be establishing a decommissioning study group to determine the best path forward for reclaiming the site.
Entergy has two years following cessation of operations to complete its study.
"We'd like to do it sooner," said Forbes.
Three plants in New England -- Connecticut Yankee, Maine Yankee and Yankee Rowe in Massachusetts -- have been successfully decommissioned.
Yankee Rowe ceased operating in 1992 and cleanup was finished in 2007. Two acres of that site -- dedicated to spent fuel storage -- is still under supervision.
Connecticut Yankee closed down in 1996 and decommissioning was declared complete in 1997. Forty-three dry casks remain on site, containing spent fuel or reactor vessel internals classified as high-level radioactive waste. They occupy about five acres.
Maine Yankee was shut down in 1997 and decommissioning was completed in 2005. Its spent fuel storage facility consists of 60 dry casks on eight acres.
Four other plants around the country have also been decommissioned and four are in the process of being decommissioned. Eight plants have been permanently shut down but decommissioning has been delayed because they share sites with operating reactors or the decommissioning study process is not complete.
The NCR minimum for the decommissioning Yankee is $566 million.
Currently, the decommissioning fund has a balance of approximately $582 million. However, the state has a higher standard for final decommissioning and estimates have come in as high as $1.2 billion.
During the Tuesday press conference, Bill Mohl, the president of
Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said that though the decommissioning fund is currently adequate under NCR standards, the actual cost of reclaiming the site has yet to be determined.
"That remains to be seen," said Moll, adding the state's requirements for reclaiming the site need to be taken into consideration. "We will need to engage in those discussions."
Forbes said following the completion of the study and any discussions with the state, Entergy may have to contribute more to the decommissioning fund.
"That certainly could be an outcome," he said.
But Vermont's Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., is not keen on SAFSTOR and would like to see clean up start as soon as the plant is shut down.
In 2011 Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders Rep. Peter Welch wrote to the NRC expressing their concerns about the SAFSTOR approach as it might be applied to Vermont Yankee.
Their letter said, in part: "SAFSTOR would let Entergy off the hook for clean-up, waste disposal, and remediation of the plant site in Vernon for years, or even decades."
On Tuesday, Leahy noted that moving quickly to full decommissioning and cleanup would have the added advantage of using the plant's current highly skilled and experienced workforce, rather than trying to train a new generation of workers with the plant and its older technology decades from now.
Sanders agreed with Leahy.
"Entergy must go through a decommissioning process as soon as possible, a process which will require many workers," he said.
"Clearly there are no people who know the Vermont Yankee plant better than those who are currently employed and they should be given top priority for those new jobs."
Leahy is also concerned about who will eventually foot the bill.
"The full cost of this decommissioning needs to be paid by the plant owner and must not become a burden for Vermont or for the federal government."
Entergy's other plant in New England, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass., was offline until Aug. 26 for repairs to the plant's water pumps. This is the second time in 2013 the plant had been shut down due to pump-related issues. However, said Mohl, Entergy has made no decisions at this time to close any of its other reactors.
"We are committed to nuclear in our portfolio," he said.