Are You Ready For Decommissioning? (It’s Sooner Than You Think!)

Shuttering a nuclear power plant requires more than just powering down the reactor and disconnecting from the grid. Once a plant is disconnected from the grid, the asset is no longer generating revenue. It becomes a cost liability to the owners until decommissioning is complete. Detailed plans, including efficient and effective staffing and organizational models, can help minimize these costs. These plans include budgetary and communications plans, as well as a detailed workforce plan.

The Fuel Is the Key

All key decommissioning activities will require people. Most of these people will be experts in their respective fields. The most important activities relate to the location and treatment of nuclear fuel. The major activates are broken down into four key phases:

1)The Operations Phase

This is the normal, on-power state of the plant leading up to shutdown. A full staffing and organizational complement is required, but additional effort must be applied to develop the shutdown strategy and plans. Typically, this will consist of a small team of operations, maintenance, radiation protection, engineering, and licensing personnel for the technical and regulatory issues, and a separate administrative team that should include senior management, human resources, budget/finance, and communications personnel.

Once the plans have matured, these two teams should be integrated into a single Shutdown/Decommissioning organization. At this stage, there is fuel in the reactor vessel, in the spent fuel pool, and potentially on an Interim Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) pad. The licensee must still meet all the regulatory license requirements for full operational capability.

2)The Shut Down Phase

Once the final decision has been made, a date and time selected, and the announcement made public, the plant should be prepared for permanent shutdown. Most nuclear plant organizations already have the required experience for final plant shutdown (this experience came from many historical shutdowns that were a normal part of preparation for refueling outages). Fuel states and locations are the same as in the Operations Phase, along with all the same regulatory requirements. If fuel remains in the reactor vessel, overall plant requirements remain like full-power operations. Consequently, the staffing and organizational models from full power operations remain the same, until the fuel is removed from the reactor vessel. After this is accomplished, the plant will move into the Wet SAFSTOR (SAFe STORage) phase.

3)The Wet SAFSTOR Phase

Once the fuel is removed from the reactor vessel, and any remaining fuel is either in the spent fuel pool or in an ISFSI, many plant operating activities will come to an end. The plant systems can be shut down that were formerly required to protect and maintain a safe-state fuel condition in the reactor vessel. However, the systems supporting the spent fuel pool must remain operative. Consequently, the staffing and organizational models should now be vastly different from this point onward as the number of operators is greatly reduced, and most corrective and preventive maintenance work ceases.

As a direct result, demands for engineering support, design modifications engineering, procurement engineering, etc. are drastically reduced. Due to the reduction in operations and maintenance activities, radiation protection support requirements are also reduced, not fully eliminated. Security requirements will most likely remain the same as during full power operations. This phase is completed once all fuel has been removed from the spent fuel pool to the ISFSI.

1)The Dry SAFSTOR Phase

At this point, the fuel is now safely stored in dry cask storage containers, and operating systems to protect the fuel from reaching a state of criticality are no longer needed. Security requirements are also drastically reduced from earlier phases.

After reviewing these four phases, it becomes clear that the organizational and staffing models for Wet SAFSTOR and Dry SAFSTOR are significantly different than those for normal nuclear plant operating organizations. An effective approach to start developing these models is to consider the required work that will need to be completed on a functional basis (operations, maintenance, engineering, radiation protection, supply chain, etc.). By evaluating the activities required during each phase, the different staffing models can be identified. From each phase’s staffing model, the organizational models can then be easily defined.

With the staffing and organizational models developed, the leadership team can work with the human resources and financial organizations to develop and execute the Candidate Selection Process (CSP). The CSP will be needed to identify, incentivize, and retain the key personnel as the overall site population reduces. The CSP will be the topic of a future blog post.

Are you ready?

For an operating organization that has not shuttered a nuclear plant before, this can all seem like a daunting challenge. With the help of experienced consultants and industry benchmarking, that challenge can easily be translated into an effective and efficient plan. As you get closer to Shut Down & Decommissioning, are you ready?

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