Decommissioning is the process by which nuclear power plants are retired from service and terminate the operating licenses they’d been granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. To ensure that decommissioning is safe and environmentally sound, the NRC has established clear regulations and associated guidance outlining the requirements and processes companies must follow. This decommissioning process facilitates participation by state and local authorities at several points along the way.
In brief, the nuclear decommissioning process involves:
- Removing the used nuclear fuel from the reactor, placing it into the used fuel pool, and eventually into dry storage containers (which can be stored on-site or transported off-site)
- Decontaminating the facility to reduce residual radioactivity
- Dismantling the structures, systems, or components containing radioactive products (e.g., the reactor vessel)
- Removing and shipping contaminated materials to appropriate facilities for waste-processing, storage, and disposal
- Storing used nuclear fuel until it can be removed from the site for disposal or consolidated storage
- Releasing the property for other uses
After the permanent closure of a nuclear power plant, the facility licensee must reduce the residual radioactivity to safe levels, allowing the NRC to release the property and permanently terminate the facility’s license. The site must be decommissioned within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations. During this time, the owner remains accountable to the NRC until decommissioning has been verified and the agency has terminated its license.
USA Nuclear wrote the rules on nuclear compliance.
Fundamental to ensuring nuclear safety is strict adherence to the laws, regulations, and guidelines set forth by industry authorities. There are currently 18 commercial power reactors progressing through the decommissioning process within the U.S., and several more will start powering down over the next few years.
USA Nuclear uses our experience from having written the rules on nuclear compliance (and having worked extensively with domestic decommissioning projects and spent fuel security) to ensure the safe decommissioning of these facilities. From developing Federal safety and security regulations and guidance, to overseeing implementation of policies and procedures at each facility, we ensure our clients and international partners stay in line with regulations and requirements.
We are taking this expertise and experience internationally as well, to ensure the safe decommissioning of facilities in the Asia Pacific, like Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei, Taiwan – the first and smallest nuclear power plant in Taiwan. Commissioned in 1978, the site is now scheduled for decommissioning.
Working with the NNSA’s Office of International Nuclear Security Engineering (INS), USA Nuclear developed a GAP analysis to assist Taiwan in developing physical security regulations and guidance to be used in the transition from an operating reactor site to a decommissioning facility. Our work ensures Taiwan maintains safeguards of critical assets while adhering to international standards and protocols.