VERNON — NorthStar Group Services Inc. CEO Scott State said Monday that his company is “ahead of schedule and under budget” on the $600 million demolition and cleanup of Vermont Yankee nuclear power company.
During the first public tour of the nuclear plant in two years, State said that despite delays with cutting up Yankee’s reactor core, which is being done by its subcontractor Orano, things overall are ahead of schedule. He said the reactor vessel is “supposed to be done by now,” but that doing the underwater cutting of the most radioactive elements at the plant, aside from the fuel rods, is time-consuming.
State said that longer part of the process hasn’t affected the overall schedule. Orano, which is a French company, is expected to complete its portion of the Vermont Yankee work by next year, he said.
There was no impact on the overall schedule, State emphasized.
State said that he expects most of the work will be done by 2024, ahead of its target of 2026. He said the two main buildings on the Vernon site that still remain — the reactor building and the turbine building — will start coming down next year.
NorthStar, unlike the previous owner of Vermont Yankee, Entergy Nuclear, opted for an immediate demolition of the reactor, which ceased operations in December 2016. Entergy had planned on putting the plant into cold storage for upwards of 50 years, a process the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls SAFSTORE.
But State said Entergy “topped off” the decommissioning trust fund, adding about $25 million, and that made it possible for the decommissioning to begin immediately. The state of Vermont has a consultant that closely monitors its expenditures, he said.
There are currently 150 people working at the site, and State praised the fact that in 1 million worker hours, there hasn’t been a single accident.
The company has had some people come down with the coronavirus, NorthStar officials said. But those 14 cases were isolated cases and did not result in any transmission of the virus at the Vernon site.
State was also slated to give tours later Monday afternoon to members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, which was scheduled to meet Monday evening for one of its regular meetings, with the focus on the handling and permanent disposal of the high-level radioactive waste, currently stored at Vernon.
State said his company is the largest industrial demolition company in the world, doing about $850 million in business a year.
And he called the job at Vermont Yankee a “marquee” project that he hoped would lead to more decommissioning jobs as more and more reactors are shut down by their utility owners.
He said nuclear power plants are having a hard time competing in the electric markets, and he said he expects another five to 15 reactors will be shut down in the coming years.
In addition to Vermont Yankee, which is NorthStar’s first commercial reactor demolition, it is now actively decommissioning Duke Energy’s Crystal River plant in Florida.
State said that if and when NorthStar’s affiliate company, Waste Control Specialists, builds a new facility to store high-level radioactive waste, NorthStar will likely transfer Vermont Yankee’s 58 casks currently stored on a large concrete pad north of the Yankee reactor building.
The casks hold all of the 3,880 fuel assemblies, which contain the individual fuel rods, that were used to generate electricity at Vermont Yankee, according to Corey Daniels, NorthStar’s manager of the spent fuel storage facility.
But, State said, while Waste Control Specialists has received a permit to build such a disposal facility in west Texas, immediately adjacent to its current low-level radioactive waste facility, the state of Texas has just passed laws against such a facility.
Another, similar project is proposed just across the Texas border in New Mexico, by the company that makes the casks, Holtec International.
State said moving the casks to an interim storage facility while the country builds a permanent repository makes sense.
State and Daniels outlined all the progress that has been accomplished in the demolition in the past two years — with the most visible, in Daniels’ mind, the demolition of the 300-foot stack.
While the top 100 feet of the stack were demolished by hand, NorthStar then brought in a specialty demolition crane to complete the job.