The owners of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant are moving ahead with a shutdown, as federal regulators discuss whether many more nuclear plants will close in coming years.
May 7 is now the scheduled shutdown day at the Kewaunee power station. Company spokesman Mark Kanz says in some ways it'll be like the plant re-fueling process that takes place every 18 months.
"As we always do during refueling activities, we'll remove the fuel from the core of the reactor and put it into the spent fuel pool. There will be a number of maintenance activities that will be taking place, as well."
But a few weeks later, unlike after standard refueling, some of the 650 employees will leave, presumably never to return, while others continue to work at the plant for the long process ahead called decommissioning. Kewaunee has chosen an option called SAFSTOR, which delays dismantling the plant and allows radioactive material to stay on site for up to 60 years. The Kewaunee plant may have to build as many as 42 more concrete and steel casks to help store the high level nuclear waste.
That presumes there are no major changes in decommissioning. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Eliot Brenner, however, says the NRC chairman now wants to re-examine the regulations in case more U.S. nuclear plants decide to shut down in coming decades: "We're paying attention all the time to how this work is carried out. The ultimate test is, 'Is this safe?'"
Brenner says that doesn't mean there will be a change in the decommissioning process for Kewaunee: he just says the NRC wants to prepare for issues that could come up long after many of today's plant employees and regulators are retired.