Monday, February 24, 2014

Defending SAFSTOR planning at Vermont Yankee

The post and the objection

In a recent op-ed, I wrote that the proposed Entergy-Vermont settlement is good for Vermont. Here's the post on this blog

and here's the post as it appeared on the local news site, Vermont Digger

There's a lively comment stream on the Vermont Digger post, with several comments objecting to my description of the plans for decommissioning.  Here's what I said in my op-ed:

You can’t begin tearing down the building while the fuel pool is still in use. So there has to be at least a five-year delay between plant closing and the beginning of major decommissioning work. Therefore, there will be a gap of several years in the economic activity around the plant.

Some comments basically  said: "I am not a nuclear engineer, but they can start decommissioning sooner."  I encourage you to read the comments themselves. I have my answer to these comments below. I have added subheadings (in bold) that weren't in my original answer.  Hopefully, these subheadings add to readability.


My answer to the objection

You say you are “NOT commenting on how or when decommissioning needs to be done” yet you seem to think it can begin immediately, despite the requirements of the operating fuel pool. Sounds like you actually ARE commenting on how and when decommissioning can be done.

You give the impression that if Entergy doesn’t start decommissioning areas other than the fuel pool immediately, Entergy is stalling. Actually, this is not the case, in my opinion. In general, the nuclear industry is very conservative about decommissioning. You might think: Hey, they can always start by tearing down the office building, no big deal. Actually, the industry shows itself quite reluctant to begin big deconstruction/decommissioning projects in close proximity to active nuclear plants (or actively maintained fuel pools that can’t be isolated easily). This is basically a safety precaution.

SAFSTOR for Safety

Indian Point
For example, Indian Point 1 ceased operation in 1974. It is in close proximity to the operating plants Indian Point 2 and 3. Indian Point 1 is in SAFSTOR, which is safer than attempting to tear it down while it shares the same area with active plants. Similarly, Dresden 1 was shut down in 1978, and is right next to Dresden 2 and 3. Millstone 1 ceased operations in 1998, and is close to the operating plants, Millstone 2 and 3. Dresden 1 and Millstone 1, like Indian Point 1, are also in SAFSTOR.

Considering the position of the fuel pool at Vermont Yankee, I would expect the owners to do nothing on site (except perhaps move some of the fuel to dry casks) while that fuel pool needs to be maintained. That’s the conservative way. I frankly have no particular opinion on when they move some of the fuel from the fuel pool. They can’t finish moving the fuel out of the pool for five years, and nothing much else can happen on site while the fuel pool is in active service.

Or rather, in my opinion, nothing much SHOULD happen on site while the fuel pool is in active service. Similarly, I think it would be a bad idea to decommission Dresden 1 while still operating Dresden 2 and 3 right next door.

Maine Yankee

No doubt, someone is going to say: “They dismantled Maine Yankee quickly! So what’s the problem here?” Well, Maine Yankee was a PWR with the fuel pool in the basement of a building that was comparatively easy to isolate. Vermont Yankee is a BWR with the fuel pool in a position that is not easy to isolate.

Waiting five years to begin serious decommissioning is the safest and most conservative way to proceed with the Vermont Yankee plant, and this has nothing to do with money.

Workforce issues and the nuclear opponents desire to feel good about themselves

About the workforce. Alas, decommissioning rarely uses very many members of the original workforce. The decommissioning jobs include chemical cleaning and deconstruction. These are not the same skills as running the plant. As others have noted, for decommissioning, teams of contractors with either specialized skills (chemical cleaning) or moderate skills in the building trades (deconstruction) do the jobs. In many cases, a decommissioning contractor is hired by the utility, and that contractor hires the teams. EnergySolutions is one such company, but there are others.

The people at the plant will be laid off, and there will be few of them involved in decommissioning. That is what has happened at other plants also. The opponents of Vermont Yankee do not want to admit this, because otherwise (conceivably) they would feel guilty about causing their neighbors to lose their jobs. But all their sweet sayings about “hoping the good people at VY will continue to work” doesn’t change reality. Decommissioning is almost completely done by teams of outsiders, no matter when decommissioning is done, early or late. That is just the way it is.

More reading

I have more explanations and some links in this blog post, including some workforce analysis from the Maine Yankee experience. I have written other blog posts on the subject also: you can search my blog for “decommissioning” in the little keyword box at the upper left.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the canard of "keeping people at the plant working", of all the dozens of people I know in both engineering and operations, maybe two or three are being retained. The rest (including me) are getting the boot. Why? There is nothing to engineer in a shutdown plant. It's all demolition. Nothing being built or improved. There is nothing to operate in a shutdown plant. A few are kept for maintenance, and certainly some security people are kept on. A few for fuel transfer and the like (temporarily). All of the support staff get the gate, people like secretaries, administrative assistants, purchasing agents, etc. Nothing for most of them to do, either. A shutdown plant is basically like a morgue or funeral home.

Nobody at an operational plant does decommissioning. That is done by outsiders with experience in that area. It is a specialized skill set that operational plant personnel generally don't have. And most people working at a power plant won't do that kind of work anyway. It is the most miserable work you can imagine. You are literally working yourself out of a job, digging your own grave from a professional viewpoint. No one who has spent their career building or operating things wants to go from that to wrecking what they have built. I know of no operator who wants to go from operating a nuclear plant to operating a jackhammer or driving a dump truck (at half the pay to boot). Even if you stayed on and did that work, where do you go when the job is done? Once the last of the fuel is transferred, where does the person doing that work go? Unemployment, that's where.

The only "assistance" I have gotten is to be told to apply for unemployment (what is that, like $500 a week?) and put my kids on SNAP. No jobs for power plant workers in Vermont. Seabrook is too far away to drive to (anyone here up for a 220 mile commute every day?). Anyone here happy to tear up the roots their kids have planted growing up to be a junior and senior in high school? Does anyone look forward to losing everything they own because they can no longer afford to pay the mortgage?

Vtdigger requires real names and I won't do that because I need to protect myself and my family from harassment. My "concerned" fellow citizens have given me enough grief because of the work I do, so I am spilling this here. Sorry for bending everyone's ear, but few seem to care about the human cost of the political agenda of others.

Robert said...

Actually, I think some of the outbuildings will be removed sooner rather than later. I don't know how it is in Vermont but where I live, we have a problem with abandoned buildings that decay, attract squatters and drug users and if not that, catch on fire and breed rats and vermin. There could also be some asbestos and lead that can be taken care of now (VY facilities might be just old enough for that to be an issue). It is also possible that some parts of VY could be used at other Entergy facilities. Meanwhile, what will happen to the turbogenerator, which must be worth a lot of money - is that just going to be wasted?

Anonymous said...

It's a BWR, so there is likely low-level contamination in the steam turbines. The generator may be okay. The hell of it is, there really is nothing wrong with the whole danged plant, so why should they throw ANY of it away? Just use it in place. Why bother to take things out and use them elsewhere when they are perfectly useable where they are? That's what makes the whole thing so tragically farcical. I doubt if site security will allow squatters and drug dealers anywhere near anything. Security is going to be around for however long there is used fuel on the site, including dry storage.

Howard Shaffer said...

The buildings are inside the security fence with the Dry Casks, and it all will remain guarded.

Anonymous said...

There are no good reasons for the plant to shutdown. The generator was rebuilt on 2004 and reinspected just a year ago. A new turbine rotor was installed 10 years ago too. This misinformed notion that the plant is 40 years old and falling apart is insane. Entergy has spent millions in upgrading the plant and replacing major pieces of equipment. The plant would not operate so well if it was not properly cared for.

Discuss the real facts on the economics and the corrupt state government that passes unconstitutional laws to promote subsidized renewable prices at 4 times the price of VY power for windmills and solar panels built by the Governor's buddies. Or the collusion for the foreign government take over of the state utilities (gas metro).

What about the whole PSB farce. A board of experts to determine what is technically accurate and make an informed decision on its merits aside from political rhetoric ands misinformed opinion of the part time legislature. If so, then why did the state pass a law to prevent the PSB from ruling? Maybe it was afraid they would rule in favor of VY.

I personal look forward to leaving the God forsaken socialist republic of Vermont, and taking the considerable amount of taxes I pay to the State of Vermont with me, because apparently they don't seem to want them.

Lets push the well paying jobs and highly skilled workers out of the State to make room for some more heroin dealers, which seems to be a business that Vermont is friendly to. Maybe if the governor taxed them like he taxes VY, he could drive them out of the state too.