Commonwealth Edison, now part of Exelon, is trying out a radical new approach to decommissioning nuclear plant that promises to make the process faster, simpler and 25 percent less expensive — instead of hiring a contractor, it has turned the job and the reactors over to a nuclear demolition company that owns a nuclear dump site. The cost will be covered by the $900 million that Exelon accumulated in a decommissioning fund.
If the approach is successful, it could have implications for 10 other nuclear plants around the country that are waiting to be decommissioned, and for the 104 reactors that are still in operation but will eventually be torn down. It will also save money for electricity customers, who often end up paying for the cleanup of nuclear plants through their utility bills.
The decommissioning operation at Zion, which began on Sept. 1, will skip one of the slowest, dirtiest and most costly parts of tearing down a nuclear plant: separating radioactive materials, which must go to a licensed dump, from nonradioactive materials, which can go to an ordinary industrial landfill.
The new idea is not to bother sorting the two. Instead, anything that could include radioactive contamination will be treated as radioactive waste.
EnergySolutions has a dump that could accommodate all 104 of the nation’s operating nuclear plants, “with space left over.” It could also absorb plants that are shut and awaiting decommissioning, like Indian Point 1 in Buchanan, N.Y.; Millstone 1 in Waterford, Conn.; and Three Mile Island 2, near Harrisburg, Pa., the site of the 1979 accident.