Information on Decommissioning

What does it mean to decommission a nuclear power plant?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) defines decommissioning as follows:

When a power company decides to close a nuclear power plant permanently, the facility must be decommissioned by safely removing it from service and reducing residual radioactivity to a level that permits release of the property and termination of the operating license. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has strict rules governing nuclear power plant decommissioning, involving cleanup of radioactively contaminated plant systems and structures, and removal of the radioactive fuel. These requirements protect workers and the public during the entire decommissioning process and the public after the license is terminated.

Since 1960, more than 70 test, demonstration and power reactors have been retired throughout the United States. Currently, there are more than a dozen units in some stage of decommissioning under NRC oversight.

Helpful resources to learn more about the decommissioning process:
What has to be done to decommission a nuclear plant?

The decommissioning process is clearly defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 50.2 (10 CFR 50.2). The initial activities involve extensive planning to safely and efficiently decommission the station and terminate the station license. Activities include removing the plant from service, transferring used fuel to safe storage (spent fuel pool or dry cask storage), removing any residual radioactivity, and restoring the site, such as the removal of structures, and possible re-grading and reseeding of the land.

When will Pilgrim have its decommissioning plan in place?

The Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR) is a description of planned decommissioning activities, a schedule for accomplishing them, and an estimate of expected costs. The report is due to the NRC within two years after a permanent shutdown of the plant and is made available for public review.

How long will the entire decommissioning process take?

The NRC has general guidelines for decommissioning, but it would be highly speculative to apply potential decommissioning estimates to Pilgrim at this time.

How can the public be assured that decommissioning will be handled properly?

The safety of Pilgrim’s operations will continue to be a top priority. In addition, the NRC will continue to provide oversight both before and during the decommissioning process.

How can the public be assured of radiological safety during the decommissioning process?

Radiological and non-radiological environmental monitoring programs will continue after the plant is shut down. The programs will be modified to monitor the types of releases that may occur during decommissioning. Again, the NRC along with applicable state and federal agencies will provide oversight during the decommissioning process.

Will the public and other stakeholders have a voice in the decommissioning process?

The NRC decommissioning regulations include provisions for public involvement and comments as various plans and submittals are made during the transition to decommissioning.

What will happen to the Pilgrim site after decommissioning?

It is too soon to have any discussions about the site post-decommissioning, as the actual decommissioning plans have yet to be developed.

What is the nuclear decommissioning trust?

The Nuclear Decommissioning Trust (NDT) contains funds set aside for spending after the plant ceases operation including the work to transition the plant to decommissioning planning as well as the eventual dismantling and decontamination of the site.

Does Entergy have the required decommissioning funds in place?

Pilgrim has a pre-funded decommissioning trust fund in place that meets the funding assurance requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Vermont Yankee, which was shut down and subsequently defueled in January of 2015, is doing something called SAFSTOR – can you explain what that is and will Pilgrim do the same thing?

SAFSTOR is a federally approved decommissioning process in which complete plant dismantling is deferred and the nuclear facility maintained and monitored in a condition that allows the radioactivity to decay; afterwards, the plant is dismantled and the property decontaminated. The NRC requires that the decommissioning be completed within 60 years of a plant ceasing operations. A longer decommissioning schedule allows both decommissioning fund growth and the natural reduction of radioactivity in plant systems.

We will not know if Pilgrim will recommend SAFSTOR until its decommissioning plan is in place.

Once the funds are at an adequate amount – how long will it take to actually do all of the decommissioning work?

Each plant has a different schedule determined by the specifics of the site. Pilgrim’s plan has yet to be developed, but in the case of Vermont Yankee we expect the actual decommissioning activities could take 5-10 years.

What happens to the used fuel?

The used fuel will remain secured on site, in a guarded and monitored secure area, during shutdown and decommissioning activities. Spent fuel is also subject to the NRC's oversight. Removal of the fuel from the reactor vessel to the spent fuel pool is expected to begin soon after the reactor is shut down for the final time. From the spent fuel pool, fuel will be moved to NRC-licensed dry casks. The fuel will remain onsite in dry casks until it is removed by the federal government in accordance with its legal obligations.

Doesn’t Pilgrim already have some fuel in dry casks?

Yes. You can learn more about our dry cask program here: Dry Fuel Storage

What happens with the Emergency Planning Zone when a plant is shut down?

The Emergency Planning Zone of 10 miles is established by NRC regulation and is used across the industry as the standard for the site specific Emergency Plans. Changes to plant specific Emergency Plans are allowed for plants in decommissioning commensurate with changes in the risks of events since the plant is no longer operating.

At Vermont Yankee, which was shut down and subsequently defueled in January of 2015, changes to the site specific Emergency Plan are being implemented in a phased approach upon receipt of NRC approval.