Zion and Vermont Yankee Decommissioning

                                   Vermont Yankee

                                   Vermont Yankee

Entergy is breaking new ground with its proposal to sell Vermont Yankee in Vernon and they are looking to Exelon and its experience with decommissioning its Zion, Illinois as an example. The basic concept is outsourcing decommissioning to get a quicker result.  EnergySolutions was selected to decommission the Zion Nuclear Power Station.  That plant, about 50 miles north of Chicago, was shut in early 1998 by Commonwealth Edison, a subsidiary of Exelon.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently expects to terminate the Zion license — signaling the end of decommissioning — by 2020, 

Nearly two years after stopping power production at Vermont Yankee, Entergy announced that it has an agreement to sell the Vernon plant — and the trust fund meant to pay for its cleanup — to New York-based NorthStar Group Services Inc.  The sale, which is subject to state and federal approval, is expected to close by the end of 2018.

NorthStar would be partnering with three companies to undertake the massive cleanup job in Vernon and is pledging to finish decommissioning and site restoration by 2030. That’s 45 years sooner than Entergy’s decommissioning timeline.

Though Exelon is a giant in the energy industry, the company eventually looked to Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions — which, coincidentally, has been handling water disposal at Vermont Yankee — to undertake decommissioning at Zion.

EnergySolutions formed a subsidiary, ZionSolutions, which took over Zion’s federal NRC license in September 2010.

There is a major difference between the Zion arrangement and the Vermont Yankee proposal: While Entergy wants to sell the Vernon plant outright to NorthStar, Exelon has maintained ownership of Zion and will take custody of the plant’s spent fuel when decommissioning is finished.

The two cleanups also differ in size and scale. Zion had two reactors capable of churning out a combined 2,000 megawatts of power, and the site covers 256 acres. Yankee was a single-unit, 605-megawatt plant on 125 acres.

But there are similarities, as well. The plants are of the same vintage — Vermont Yankee opened in 1972, and Zion received its operating licenses the following year.

There are similar spent-fuel storage needs. Vermont Yankee will need 58 sealed casks to hold its used fuel, and EnergySolutions has said there are 61 spent fuel casks at Zion.

Cleanup cost estimates have been in the same neighborhood.  Entergy has projected decommissioning will cost $1.24 at Vermont Yankee, while Exelon has estimated Zion's cleanup is a $1 billion.

ZionSolutions has an advantage — via its parent company — when disposing of Zion’s waste. The NRC says the contractor is “using a ‘rip and ship’ process that will reduce the labor-intensive separation of contaminated materials and transport the (waste) in bulk to the EnergySolutions disposal site in Utah and to (Waste Control Solutions) in Texas.

That same disposal advantage appears to be built into the proposed Vermont Yankee decommissioning arrangement: Waste Control Solutions would be one of NorthStar’s partners in Vernon. Entergy pointed out, in announcing the NorthStar deal, that WCS would be responsible for waste management at Yankee and operates a radioactive waste site in Andrews, Texas.

                                                  Zion Plant

                                                  Zion Plant

It appears that if nuclear utilities accelerate decommissioning that it can be a profitable business.  This sounds like a win win for all.

Entergy will also seek to transfer its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses to NorthStar, of New York, and has announced plans to accelerate by two years transfer of all spent nuclear fuel to dry cask storage to 2018. That expedited schedule is contingent on NRC approval of license amendment requests by dry-storage manufacturer Holtec International.

Entergy’s sale — expected to be complete by the end of 2018 — depends on a license transfer by the NRC and approval by the Vermont Public Service Board. Also, Entergy and NorthStar will ask the Public Service Board to approve “proposed site restoration standards that are generally consistent with those of other regional decommissioning projects.

NorthStar, called “one of the premier U.S. dismantling and remediation companies,” plans to partner with the firms Areva, Waste Control Specialists and Burns & McDonnell to perform specialized services “drawing on each company’s core competencies.

Areva will be responsible for reactor work and spent fuel management support, while Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell, as “a full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm,” will handle engineering and regulatory support. Waste Control Specialists, of Dallas, with a radioactive waste disposal site in Texas, will be in charge of the Vermont plant’s “waste management, packaging, transportation and disposal.”

The French multinational AREVA lists among its nuclear decommissioning projects the reactor-vessel segmentation and packaging at the Yankee Atomic plant in Rowe, Maine Yankee and Millstone 1 as well as used fuel and waste management at Connecicut Yankee and Japan’s Fukushima plants.

NorthStar and its partners can achieve the decommissioning – estimated at $817 million for license termination, $57 million for site restoration and $225 million for spent-fuel management – because of its expertise. Entergy can operate plants; these people have experience in decontamination and dismantling plants.

The nuclear decommissioning trust fund for Vermont Yankee totals $575 million. Of the overall $1.2 billion estimated in overall decommissioning costs, $143 million is projected for the ongoing moving of spent fuel to dry cask.


On Entergy’s original decommissioning schedule for the plant, which shut down after 42½ years of operation, decontamination and dismantlement was to begin in 2068, with projected completion of both decommissioning and site restoration by 2075.

In its agreement with Entergy, NorthStar has committed to starting decontamination and dismantlement by 2021 and to complete decommissioning and restoration of the site by 2030. It would continue maintaining spent fuel until the U.S. Department of Energy fulfills its obligations to remove it. NorthStar would then decommission the storage area, terminate the NRC license and complete site restoration. (The Recorder, 11/11/2016,  Vermont Digger . org, 11/13/2016)