Tag Archives: decommissioning nuclear power plants

Taking it to Pieces: Nuclear Power

nuclear plant South Korea

South Korea, one of the world’s largest nuclear electricity producers, will scrap plans to add nuclear power plants, its president said on June 19, 2017, signaling a shift in decades of reliance on nuclear energy.  President Moon Jae-in said South Korea will move away from nuclear energy and will not seek to extend the life of existing plants.  He also vowed to cut South Korea’s reliance on coal. South Korea will shut 10 old coal power plants and stop building more coal power plants.

“So far South Korea’s energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public’s life and safety took a backseat,” Moon said at a ceremony marking the shutdown of the country’s oldest power plant, Kori 1, in Busan, home to South Korea’s largest cluster of nuclear power plants. “But it’s time for a change.”

The speech was Moon’s followup on his presidential campaigns to cut coal and nuclear power. Greenpeace and other environmental groups welcomed Moon’s announcement.

Since the Kori 1 reactor went online in 1978, the resource poor-country added 24 nuclear power plants to meet rising demand for electricity from rapid industrialization and economic development. In 2016, a third of electricity in South Korea was produced from nuclear power plants. Its nuclear power production from 25 nuclear plants in 2016 was the fifth-largest in the world, according to the World Nuclear Association.

South Korea is also one of the few countries that have exported its nuclear reactor technology… building a nuclear reactor in United Arab Emirates.

But South Koreans’ enthusiasm for nuclear energy quickly waned following the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns in its neighbor Japan. In the following year, fake parts scandals prompted an investigation and spread fear over nuclear plants’ safety. Recent earthquakes in southeastern South Korea also dented public support in the country that was long believed to be safe from earthquakes. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently.

To decommission the Kori 1 reactor, South Korea plans to invest developing its own decommissioning technology and experts in the area. The decommissioning will take at least 15 years and cost 643.7 billion won ($569 million or 64 billion yen), the energy ministry said.

Who Pays for Worst Case Scenario: nuclear waste at Hinkley Point

Hinkley Point C. image from EDF

Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year.The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped…

[The government]  released a “Nuclear Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology Notification Paper”. Marked “commercial in confidence”, it states that “unlimited exposure to risks relating to the costs of disposing of their waste in a GDF [geological disposal facility], could not be accepted by the operator as they would prevent the operator from securing the finance necessary to undertake the project”.

Instead the document explains that there will be a “cap on the liability of the operator of the nuclear power station which would apply in a worst-case scenario”. It adds: “The UK government accepts that, in setting a cap, the residual risk, of the very worst-case scenarios where actual cost might exceed the cap, is being borne by the government.”Separate documents confirm that the cap also applies should the cost of decommissioning the reactor at the end of its life balloo….Hinkley Point C developers face £7.2bn cleanup bill at end of nuclear plant’s life

Excerpt from Secret government papers show taxpayers will pick up costs of Hinkley nuclear waste storage, The Guardian, Oct. 30, 2016

Closing Down Nuclear Plants in the United States

pilgrim nuclear plant image from US NRC

In Massachusetts, residents who live near Entergy Corporation’s Pilgrim Generating Station, worry about health and environmental threats from the spent radioactive fuel that remains at the plant once the power plant closes. And they’re not being quiet about it.  “My house is six miles across open water from the reactor,” says Mary Lampert, the director of the citizen group Pilgrim Watch. “I can see it from my house, which is real motivation to get to work on the very serious issues that threaten our communities.”  Lampert says she and her fellow activists celebrated when they heard that Entergy had decided to close the plant, but their joy was short-lived when they learned about the continued presence of radioactive waste….because no state wants to be a permanent repository,” Lampert says.

Nonetheless, Makhijani says, while decommissioning is risky, because parts of the reactors are highly radioactive, it is less risky for the surrounding public in compared to operating an aging nuclear plant.  “There are mainly two different kinds of big risks associated with nuclear power,” Makhijani explains. “One of them we have seen dramatically in Fukushima: the operating nuclear reactor fails, has a meltdown and [there is] a massive release of radioactivity. That is the risk that goes away when you shut down the nuclear reactor and remove the fuel.”There are risks associated with removing the fuel because some of it is still very hot and needs to be cooled. A loss of coolant, for example, could lead to fires. But as the fuel gets older, it cools down significantly and these risks decline, Makhijani says. “If you thin out these pools and have dry storage, the risks to the surrounding population become quite low,” he explains.

Entergy Corporation says it has set aside nearly a billion dollars to decommission the plant and to protect public health and safety.

Excerpt, Adam Wernick, Even plans to close nuclear power plants stir controversy, PRI,  Nov. 21, 201

How Much it Costs to Close Down Nuclear Plants

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

According to Callan Investment Institute, underfunded decommissioning costs could amount to $23 billion from investor-owned utilities.  The industry has already set aside $50 billion to fund specific trust funds designated exclusively for decommissioning expenses, mostly collected from ratepayers….

As part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioning and licensing of a power plant, the plant owners establish a trust fund, known as the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust, or NDT. The sole purpose of this trust fund is to provide funds for the cost to decommission the facility when that time comes. The owners contribute annually to the fund, in relationship to the percent ownership, based on projected costs and length of the license. The companies are the final backstop to shortfalls in funding to these trusts.

The origin of the capital for fund contributions is from customer rate cases – in other words, NDT funding is part of our monthly electric bills. Owners are required to review annually and submit every two years to the NRC both the fund balance and cost estimates for decommissioning. The NRC provides a formula of costs for operators to compare with the balances on the NDT, or the companies can file site-specific cost projections for each facility.

The total industry-wide decommissioning costs are estimated by Callan to be $80 billion….[For instance] Entergy, according to the study, their NDT could be short by about $2 billion and to make up this difference over the average life remaining of their licenses, management should be setting aside $186 million a year rather than the $39 million currently. However, ETR is not alone in the study. The industry contributed $315 million in 2013 when Callan calculates the amount should be closer to $1.6 billion. Below are some shortfall numbers for the five largest nuclear power generators,…

According to Callan, Exelon has potential net deficiencies of $7.7 billion including Constellation Energy; Duke has a potential net deficiency of $2.3 billion; Entergy of $2.0 billion; Dominion Resources  of $1.3 billion; and NextEra has a potential surplus of $208 million. Combined, the largest five producers of nuclear power have a potential decommissioning deficit of $13.1 billion, or 57% of the projected total industry-wide.

Excerpts from George Fisher, A $23 Billion Potential Shortfall For 27 Utilities With Nuclear Power Plants, Seeking Alpha,May. 15, 2015

Full Study (pdf)