Feds Want Proof New Jersey Company Can Handle Decommissioning at Multiple Nuclear Plant Sites

Apr 17, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Is Holtec Decommissioning International, the company seeking to purchase and jump start the process of retiring the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, biting off more than it can chew? That’s a question the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants answered as part of its review of a separate license transfer request for a second East Coast nuclear power plant expected to come permanently offline next month.

In addition to the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Township, the Camden-based company has plans to decommission the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass., following its closure May 31. Oyster Creek’s license transfer application was submitted on Aug. 31, 2018, while the Pilgrim license application was filed on Nov. 16, 2018, according to Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 office.

In a letter to HDI officials regarding the Pilgrim application, Scott Wall, a senior NRC project manager, noted if both transfers are granted, the company would simultaneously be managing licensed activities in New Jersey and Massachusetts, “including possession and disposition of radioactive material, maintenance of the facilities in a safe condition (including storage, control, and maintenance of the spent fuel), decommissioning and decontamination of the facilities, and maintenance of the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations until they can be decommissioned.”

Wall requested in his letter “additional information that justifies that HDI’s management and technical support organization will have sufficient resources (i.e. corporate structure, management and technical support organization staff capacities, internal procedures, etc.) to conduct licensed activities at multiple sites.”

Sheehan said NRC officials will share the request for additional information between the two applications. Entergy/Holtec asked for a decision in April on the Pilgrim application, he said. Exelon/Holtec requested a decision be made by May 1, or earlier.

“Typically, a license transfer review takes about a year,” Sheehan said, noting that during a pre-submittal meeting last year, the feds informed the applicants they would work to complete the reviews in the requested time frame, but the final timeline is dependent on factors outside of their control, including the amount of time it takes the applicants to respond to requests for additional information on the applications; any unanticipated addition of scope to the review; and reviews by NRC advisory committees or hearing-related activities.

In February 2018, Exelon Generation announced its plans to permanently shut down Oyster Creek more than 14 months before a December 2019 deadline agreed to with the state of New Jersey. Doing so negated the state’s calls for retrofitting the plant with cooling towers at the Route 9 site. Five months later, the Pennsylvania-based utility company, part of the Illinois-based Exelon energy companies, indicated a willingness to return more than half of the site to Lacey Township officials once decommissioning was complete. Two weeks later, on July 31, it announced plans to sell Oyster Creek, once the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant, to Holtec.

Holtec submitted its Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report for the Oyster Creek power plant in September. It highlights an accelerated schedule for the prompt decommissioning of and the unrestricted release of the site. Those expedited plans do not include releasing the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, or spent fuel pad, on site. Holtec officials have said the company’s preferred method for decommissioning Oyster Creek was a DECON, or decontamination, method, in which equipment, structures and portions of the facility and site that contain radioactive contaminants are promptly removed and decontaminated to a level that permits termination of the license shortly after cessation of operations.

The Holtec PSDAR for Oyster Creek calls for the transfer of spent nuclear fuel to the dry cask storage to be finalized in 2023, providing for the complete dismantlement of the reactor and turbine buildings. Radiological decommissioning, according to Holtec’s plan, is expected to be completed by 2024. That would allow full release of the Route 9 site, located on 779 acres of land in the Forked River section of Lacey Township.

In November, Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., on behalf of itself and Entergy Nuclear Generation Company, Holtec International and HDI, asked the NRC to approve the indirect transfer of control of Pilgrim Power Station, as well as the general license for the Pilgrim Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, to Holtec; and the direct transfer to HDI. In addition, HDI submitted an exemption request asking that it be permitted to use of a portion of the nuclear decommissioning trust for spent fuel management and site restoration costs.

HDI has 30 days to respond to the NRC’s request for additional information.

— Gina G. Scala


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