Kewaunee Plant Owners Propose Accelerated Decommissioning Process

Dominion Resources Wants To Speed Up Move Of Radioactive Fuel, In Part By Using New Type Of Canister For Waste

Above, the Kewaunee Power Station, which was shut down last year. Photo: Lenka Riznicek (CC-BY-SA).

Owners of the now-closed Kewaunee nuclear power plant want to move highly-radioactive spent fuel from inside the plant to containers kept outdoors near Lake Michigan more quickly.

Some communities near the Kewaunee plant want the owner, Dominion Resources to speed up the decommissioning of the site to far less than the 60 years the company is allowed under federal law. Dominion said it’s willing to pick up the pace by 2016 and move 24 more concrete-and-steel casks of radioactive fuel out of the plant pool and into a fenced-in site elsewhere on the property, but the company wants to use a newer type of cask that can pack in more spent fuel rods.

Tim Judson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service said the fuel is still very radioactive and generates a lot of heat.

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“The reason previous canisters haven’t been licensed to contain as much waste as the ones Dominion wants to use is they would overheat the canisters and potentially rupture them, or lead to leaks of radioactivity,” said Judson.

Judson said it would be better if Dominion let the fuel rods cool longer in the plant pool and didn’t try to put so many rods into a canister.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Matthew Learn said NRC headquarters is analyzing the proposed canister. Learn said a few other plants that have used the container have let the fuel cool for about a decade, but he said moving the waste just three years after Kewaunee’s shut down may be doable.

“I certainly believe it’s possible, but we want to ensure that the casks can safely perform that earlier fuel move,” said Learn. “That’s part of ongoing reviews that NRC is performing.”

Learn said the shut-down Zion nuclear plant just south of Kenosha is itself loading radioactive waste into the newer canister.

The NRC said it doesn’t plan to hold a community meeting on Dominion’s plan, unless area residents request one.