Decommissioning a nuclear power plant like Pilgrim will cost close to
$1 billion and could take a decade to complete, but is not particularly complicated, according to one expert.
“It’s not dissimilar from taking care of asbestos, you need to make sure when you’re bringing down the structure you don’t disburse the potentially hazardous material,” said Jacopo Buongiorno, a nuclear science and engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It takes time and money, but it’s not a technically super challenging, untried process.”
Entergy, the owner of the Plymouth nuclear plant, yesterday said it will close it by 2019. Once the plant shuts down, Pilgrim will begin moving its spent nuclear fuel into dry cask storage. Dry casks are steel containers that are often welded shut, and are designed to store spent nuclear fuel. That process could take about five years, said Bill Mohl, president of Entergy.
Pilgrim will have to keep the spent fuel on site, because a plan to create permanent storage for nuclear waste underneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada has stalled in Congress, and there is nowhere else to put it.
“We are very confident we can safely store that fuel on site,” Mohl said.
The actual decommissioning of Pilgrim will take about five to 10 years, he said, once work begins.
Taking apart the power plant itself is more complicated than a typical demolition, Buongiorno said. Each part of the power plant must be decontaminated to remove the radiation.
Taking down the plant cannot start until Entergy can show it has enough money in its decommission trust fund to complete the work. The company said it has roughly $870 million in the Pilgrim fund as of Sept. 30. Mohl said the company doesn’t yet have a cost estimate for decommissioning Pilgrim, but the estimate for Entergy’s Vermont Yankee plant is $1.25 billion.
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