The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public hearing Tuesday night at Illinois Beach Resort as part of the license termination process for the Zion nuclear power plant.
Because the federal government has not established a permanent storage site for spent nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission established regulations that allow licensees to sell off part of their land while maintaining a small portion for storage of spent fuel.
Zion Solutions LLC currently holds the license for the Zion nuclear power plant site and has submitted the required license termination plan to the NRC.
Chris Walsh of the NRC explained at the start of the public hearing that the NRC’s responsibility is to see that the site is safely removed from service and the radioactivity level is reduced for unrestricted or restricted use. The NRC has no oversight of finances or what the land may be used for in the future. Walsh said those questions should be addressed to the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The NRC steps in the license termination process include an acceptance review which has been completed, a technical review which is underway and a public hearing which was Tuesday’s meeting.
Robert Orikowski, the NRC’s chief of material control, ISFSI branch, said their inspectors conduct boots on the ground inspections. They look at the radiological and safety issues on the site and as well as decommissioning inspections, they perform spent fuel inspections and security.
Over a two-year period, to determine levels of radioactivity, soil samples have been taken as well as core samples of sub-surface and surface concrete and quarterly groundwater samples. All samples have been below the criteria required for the site to be released for other uses.
Newly elected Zion City Commissioner Mike McDowell and current Zion Park Board President asked who owns the spent fuel and if there is a time when it will become the property of the federal government. Exelon owns it but Zion Solutions holds the license for possession. It will remain Exelon’s property until the federal government has a licensed repository for spent fuel.
McDowell asked if the city can have any input into the License Termination Process and the outcome. Walsh said the LTP deals with radiological decommissioning and is mainly a technical document on how to meet the radiological criteria. As for use of he property, Walsh said the NRC doesn’t own the property so whatever Exelon decides is its choice.
Asked to talk about the monitoring of the dry casks, NRC officials said there are several aspects to the monitoring, performance, radiological dose and security. The casks are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both electronic and visual monitoring is acceptable. Electronic monitoring is used at Zion right now.
It was also asked about the need for the casks to be put under water if repairs are needed. It was explained that is one method but not the only one and the casks would not have to be put under water for repair.
In response to how often the NRC must inspect the fuel site, officials said it must be done annually. One year they conduct radiological inspections and the next year safety inspections.
There were several questions about finances and the trust fund established with consumer fees to pay for decommissioning. It was reiterated several times that the NRC does not regulate commerce; it regulates safety.
Dave Kraft from the non-profit Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago, asked if the ISFSI has a separate license and who owns it. There is a general license for the site and Zion Solutions is the current holder. Officials said the ISFSI is separate from the decommissioning process.
In summary, Walsh commented that 10 nuclear power plants have been safely decommissioned in the United States and the NRC will continue to monitor, inspect and provide oversight of the decommissioning process. He said NRC regulations are all performance-based and Zion Solutions is fulfilling its requirements.