Oyster Creek Shutdown Will Cost $1.4 Billion, Take 60 Years

Decommissioning report to Nuclear Regulatory Commission indicates Exelon will initiate lengthy closure procedure mid-September

Oyster Creek nuclear plant
Exelon is projecting it will cost $1.4 billion and take 60 years to formally shut down its Oyster Creek, the nation’s oldest commercial nuclear power plant scheduled to cease operations by the end of October.

In a post-shutdown decommissioning report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the company will begin the shut down and defueling of the 645-megawatt plant in Lacey Township on September 17.

Once that process is completed, the facility will be place in so-called Safe and Storage (SAFSTOR) condition, one of three options nuclear owners have to choose for decommissioning a licensed facility. Essentially, it allows the owner to store spent fuel initially for five years in a wet pool, and then in a dry cask, and eventually in a facility approved by the federal government.

“Under SAFSTOR methodology, the facility is placed in a safe and stable condition and maintained in that state allowing levels of radioactivity to decrease through radioactive decay followed by decontamination and dismantlement,’’ according to the closure plan submitted to the NRC.

Initially, preparation for a period of safe storage (also referred to as dormancy) entails defueling the reactor and transferring the fuel to a spent fuel pool. Besides safe storage, the owner of a plant could choose immediate dismantlement or entombment.

Indian Point in New York also chose the safe storage option. That plant permanently shut down in 1997.

The purpose of the decommissioning report is to provide the NRC and the public with a general overview of the company’s decommissioning activities, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal agency. At some point, a public hearing on the plan will be held, he said.

In its post-closure plan, Exelon projected that the bulk of its decommissioning costs — $1.1 billion — will involve dealing with radiological components of the plant. Approximately $290 million will go for spent-fuel management, and another $60 million for site restoration, not expected to be finished until September 2078.

Prior to then, the facility will be left intact with most structures maintained in a stable condition. The overall objective of the decontamination and dismantlement is to ensure that radioactively contaminated or activated materials will be removed from the site to be released for unrestricted use, according the 43-page report.

“Recently, Exelon Generation filed a Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report with the NRC,” the company said in an email, “which lays out our current plan and timing for decommissioning the site. While the NRC allows nuclear operators up to 60 years to return a nuclear facility to previously existing conditions, the timeline could be significantly shorter.”

Oyster Creek announced earlier this year it would shut down by the end of October, earlier than it previously agreed to close the plant under an agreement with former Gov. Chris Christie. That agreement, following years of efforts by environmentalists to close the facility, called for the facility to shut down by the end of 2019.

The plant began operation in 1969, and its license to operate would have expired in 2029. Nuclear plants throughout the nation have been retiring prematurely, largely because they have found it difficult to compete against cheap natural-gas plants.