Progress prompts considering shift to DECON

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Fort Calhoun shutdown

Omaha Public Power District employees working on decommissioning Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) have been making such great progress, the district will consider a faster, more economical approach. The plant went offline Oct. 24, 2016.

The utility’s senior management team made a presentation to the OPPD Board of Directors during their committee meetings Sept. 11, 2018. They asked the board to consider shifting from the SAFSTOR (safe storage) decommissioning method, which takes up to 60 years, to the DECON (decontamination) method, which is expected to take up to an additional 10 years or so from now.

Under the SAFSTOR method, residual radioactivity is allowed to naturally decay. With this process, the cost of decommissioning is spread over a longer period of time.

Under the DECON strategy, the facility and its equipment are decontaminated, and then the components are safely disposed of at a low-level waste disposal site. OPPD currently utilizes a site located in Clive, Utah, owned by EnergySolutions, which OPPD contracts for decommissioning support services.

In the long-term, DECON could save the utility up to an estimated $200 million by reducing building maintenance and upkeep over the long dormancy period until the fuel is stored off-site.

Other DECON benefits highlighted during a presentation to the board include: it would reduce financial liability sooner, shorten the time of regulatory risk, reduce work redundancies, improve efficiency, ensure the availability of a waste disposal option, provide an opportunity to repurpose the plant site, and provide greater cost certainty.

Management asked the board to consider this change. OPPD will need to investigate all of its options and present them to the board as part of a formal recommendation at the Oct. 11, 2018 board meeting. Directors are expected to vote on the recommendation at that time.

“We chose SAFSTOR in the first place due to the flexibility it provided to move up the time frame or switch to DECON, if it made sense,” said Tim Burke, OPPD president and CEO. “Our workers’ performance makes the potential move to deconstruction possible.”

“Our employees at Fort Calhoun Station, and those supporting the effort around the district, have really stepped up to the challenge of transitioning to a project organization,” said Tim Uehling, OPPD’s senior manager in charge of Decommissioning.

“This project is moving on-time and under-budget thanks to their efforts over the past couple of years,” Uehling said.

Mary Fisher, vice president of Energy Production & Nuclear Decommissioning, said she’s proud of the team.

“It has been tremendously rewarding to see them work their way through a tough situation and come out on the other side, engaged and with so much positivity.”

Costs associated with decommissioning FCS come from the district’s decommissioning fund, currently containing a total of $439 million within two trusts. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires all nuclear plants have a decommissioning fund.

The rate of funding is expected to remain fairly consistent between the two options SAFSTOR or DECON. Expenditures from this fund have no impact on rates. OPPD continues to remain committed to no general rate increases through 2021.

Uehling said from the outside, much of the near-term work under DECON looks the same as it would under SAFSTOR.

“The difference is, rather than preparing the site for dormancy, we’re preparing for decontamination and deconstruction of site systems and structures.

Currently, the plant employs 324 workers, which is expected to be closer to 315 by year’s end due to attrition.

Uehling said there are no planned decommissioning-related layoffs in 2019, and work associated with dismantling the plant would enable OPPD to maintain more staffing over the next decade than the SAFSTOR would have.

Jodi Baker

About Jodi Baker

Jodi Baker writes stories and shoots videos for The Wire. Jodi was a television news reporter before she came to work for OPPD as a media specialist in 2013. She's married with two children (a boy and a girl) and an allergy-ridden little Cairn Terrier.

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