By John Stang
The Omaha Public Power District Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to have the Nebraska utility remain in charge f decommissioning the Fort Calhoun Station nuclear power plant, with assistance from a hired contractor.
There was little public discussion on the decision before the board voted on a resolution setting the path for decommissioning the retired facility. No one discussed potential specific contractors that could be hired.
The board voted last month to move into active decommissioning at Fort Calhoun, reversing an earlier decision to place the single-reactor facility into SAFSTOR, or “safe storage,” following its closure in October 2016. Under the earlier approach, the site would have been monitored and maintained but largely left alone for four decades before active decommissioning began. The program would have wrapped up by 2066.
But in recent months, OPPD reconsidered that approach, believing an expedited decommissioning would reduce financial liability, address climate hazards earlier, and increase flexibility in costs and scheduling. The great majority of the cleanup would be completed by 2028.
“Going into decommissioning now gets rid of the uncertainty that goes with decommissioning,” said Tim Uehling, senior director of decommissioning for Fort Calhoun Station.
The resolution approved Thursday said OPPD management “is prepared to select a primary contractor and negotiate a contract for the project.” Utility President and CEO Tim Burke saidnegotiating with a contractor could take months and the board would be updated monthly in closed meetings. “We anticipate this will be a long negotiating process,” he said.
A resolution approved last month laid out three possible options for decommissioning: working with a contractor but remaining in charge of the project; having a separate contractor temporarily assume the license to conduct decommissioning, then return it when the job was done; and fully relinquishing the license to a contractor that would assume control over the decommissioning trust and responsibility for cleanup and spent fuel management.
In a presentation to the board on Thursday, Uehling and Mary Fisher, OPPD vice president for energy production and nuclear decommissioning, said the selected method “maintains OPPD control of the project, key decisions and site use. Combines site specific expertise of OPPD personnel with project specific expertise of a contractor sharing risk/reward. Least impact to OPPD employees.”
The presentation shows the cost for termination of the plant’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission license under accelerated decommissioning, or DECON, is just under $1 billion. That compares to just shy of $2.5 billion for SAFSTOR.
The NRC will terminate a nuclear power plant’s license when radioactivity levels on the property have been reduced to the level that it can be released for restricted or unrestricted use.
The OPPD schedule shows that the DECON approach front loads the work and spending in the next few years, after which the costs flat line until the 2050s. While the presentation does not explain the late spending, that likely would involve removal of the spent reactor fuel storage pad after the Department of Energy finally meets its legal mandate to remove used fuel from all nuclear power plants.
By contract, spending on SAFSTOR would have been minimal for decades before spiking into the hundreds of millions per year starting in 2059.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission records show that as of Dec. 31, 2016, Fort Calhoun had $286 million in its decommissioning trust fund, with the NRC estimating $931 million would be needed. In 2018, OPPD reported $439 million in its decommissioning trust fund.