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Richard Ryman column: NRC answers some questions about Kewaunee decommissioning

8:50 PM, Apr. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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A variety of information came out of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's meeting Wednesday on the Kewaunee Power Station closing, but didn't fit into other stories. So here are a few things from the notebook:

? The NRC will continue to have a resident inspector on site for about a year after the plant shuts down. After that, regional inspectors will take over responsibility for ensuring plant safety.

? The NRC said the decommissioning plans calls for spent nuclear fuel to be removed from the site within 60 years. There is a lot of skepticism on that point. The federal government is required, by law, to provide a repository for nuclear fuel. The repository was to be available in 1998, but the chosen location, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, was never completed and put on hold by the Obama administration.

"We can't tell you what the situation will be in 10, 20, 30 years. Right now, it's 60 years, unless we are told otherwise by Congress and the President through laws," said Kenneth O'Brien, deputy director of the Division of Reactor Projects for Region III - and a former resident inspector at Kewaunee.

? Someone asked whether, once it was shut down, Dominion could return to operation. O'Brien said as with all changes in a licensee's operating status, the owner would have to demonstrate to the NRC why it needed to do so and if it could do it safely.

"I'm not aware of any case where that happened," he said.

Senior Resident Inspector Robert Krsek said the plant is in excellent condition.

? A socio-economic impact study must be prepared as part of the decommissioning process. The report compares factors from before the plant was built to those expected after it is removed. The in-between stuff, not so much.

? O'Brien said there are no inherent safety issues to accelerating decommissioning. There are a lot of other factors that come into play, but accelerated decommissioning could be safely carried out.

? The NRC's concerns do not extend outside the plant security zone. In other words, Dominion's recently completed training facility is not required to be dismantled along with the nuclear plant.

? Nuclear plant owners are given a great deal of leeway in developing their decommissioning plans. Some have completed decommissioning relatively quickly, others have taken decades and aren't done yet. The NRC does not prod them along, other than to be sure they get it done by the end of 60 years and that it is done safely.

? At Kewaunee, spent reactor fuel is scheduled to remain in the reactor pool for at least seven years before being moved to dry-cask storage.

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