Plant shutdown price tag: $1.18 billion

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By Pat Faherty

Special to the Citizen

Duke Energy has submitted its decommissioning plan for the Crystal River nuclear plant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The selected option is expected to be completed in 2074, capping more than a century of activity on the site.

About 275 employees remain at the plant — members of the facility’s decommissioning transition organization — in addition to security personnel. Additional contract workers will be brought in as needed.

Throughout the decommissioning process, plant management and staffing levels will adjust to reflect the transition.

The estimated decommissioning cost is $1.18 billion in current dollars. The company believes its existing nuclear decommissioning trust fund, plus the fund’s future growth — coupled with funds from the plant’s nine other owners — will be sufficient to cover the decommissioning cost.

Duke is responsible for about 98 percent of costs. Analysis of estimated decommissioning cash flows indicates, at this time, no additional charges will be required from Florida customers to supplement the trust fund. However, annual analysis will be required

The plan includes a decommissioning description, cost estimate and schedule. It also includes a management strategy for storing used nuclear fuel.

The company expects to implement tasks outlined in the decommissioning plan starting in 2014. It has also submitted the plan to the Florida Public Service Commission.

Duke Energy has selected the “SAFSTOR” decommissioning option — one of three options approved by the NRC and one chosen by several other retired U.S. nuclear plants. Under this option, the plant will be placed in a safe, stable condition for 60 years until decommissioning work is completed in 2074.

Nationwide, several commercial power reactor operators have conducted decommissioning, with the plants currently in SAFSTOR condition.

Duke spokeswoman Heather Danenhower said radiological and environmental monitoring will continue during the entire decommissioning process to ensure safety and environmental protection.

The plant’s used nuclear fuel will remain in the existing on-site fuel pool until a new onsite dry-cask storage facility is built, which is anticipated in 2019.

She said the schedule for decommissioning activities uses the 60 years allowed by NRC regulation.

“The unit will be safely and cost-effectively placed into its SAFSTOR condition by July 2015,” she said. “The unit will remain in that state, called dormancy, until the large component removal activities begin in 2068.

“The NRC will terminate the 10CFR50 license in 2073, and the site restoration activities will be completed in 2074.”

The construction permit for the plant was issued in 1968. It received its operating license and went into operation in 1977. Final reactor shutdown was in September 2009 and Duke announced the plant’s retirement last February.

In March, the NRC acknowledged permanent shutdown of the power operation and permanent removal of fuel from the reactor vessel.

Duke Energy Crystal River decommissioning director Terry Hobbs said all U.S. nuclear plants store used fuel on site, because the U.S. does not have a central federal repository for used nuclear fuel.

“Decommissioning the Crystal River nuclear plant will be a well-defined process with significant NRC oversight,” said Hobbs. “Nuclear safety will remain Duke Energy’s top priority. The plant will remain in a safe, stable condition, and our comprehensive emergency plan and 24/7 security force will remain in place.”

As for workers, he said the same skill sets apply now and in the future as when the plant was operational. “We still have plant staff there 24/7 and will for the remainder of this decade at a minimum.”

The plant takes up about 27 acres at the energy complex. Radiological and environmental programs will be maintained throughout the decommissioning process to ensure safety and environmental compliance.

According to the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR) filed with the NRC, the likelihood of a large offsite radiological release that impacts public health and safety after the nuclear plant is shut down and defueled is considerably lower than the likelihood of a release from the plant during power operation. The potential radiation exposure to workers will also decrease significantly.

Subsequently, simplifying the emergency plan is one of the changes Hobbs expects as the process forward.

He said that and other changes become a challenging part of the decommissioning process because of the elongated timelines.

Phyllis Dixon, decommissioning support director, who has visited another nuclear plant already in safe storage, explained a shift in the industry in the late ’90s took the national focus off of decommissioning.

Now Duke is working with the NRC, the Nuclear Energy Institute and other utilities to catch up and come up with guidance for a current approach.

Contact reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.