What Happens to a Decommissioned Nuclear Power Plant

Nicholas Jackson over at The Atlantic has a great piece about the tear down of the Zion nuclear power plant in Illinois that was permanently deactivated in 1998 after both of it's reactors were accidentally/coincidentally shut down. But even when done properly, complete removal isn't so simple.

According to Jackson, there are two stages to the demolition process, which is expected to take 10 years and cost $1 billion to complete. First, there's the removal of the structure, which is relatively straight forward.

EnergySolutions will dismantle the radioactive equipment, demolish the buildings and remove all of the foundations and leftover rubble in a process known as "rip and ship." Even the old metal desks, pipes, tools and workers' clothing, which could be considered radioactive after being kept that close to the nuclear fuel, will need to be shredded and moved to EnergySolutions' disposal site in Clive, Utah. There, all of the waste will be crushed and compacted. About four million cubic feet of waste is expected to be moved to Utah, according to the Wall Street Journal, and then entombed in clay and rock.

Then there's the removal of the nuclear waste, which is a whole barrel of political, economical, environmental and scientific complications. Spent fuel will be placed into concrete casks and locked in a storage pad that sits under 24-hour security and can withstand disaster and attack. Still, politicians yammer on about about terrorist attacks and environmentalists yammer on about the water supply in the event of such a freak accident. As for the removal process itself...

There are more than 2,200 nuclear fuel assemblies sitting inside of the radioactive waste pool at the moment. They range in age from 14 years old to 40. Each of the assemblies will be moved into a three-inch thick stainless steel tube while still underwater. Each of the tubes will then be vacuum dried and welded shut, according to ABC 7 News, and then placed inside of larger concrete containers. During this process "there's no chance of a meltdown," Val Christensen, the CEO of EnergySolutions, told ABC 7. "The water temperature is below 100 degrees. These units have been cooling for 13 years." Once completed, there will be sixty-one steel and concrete dry casks, each weighing about 125 tons, stored on the pad, which will measure between 10 and 15 acres.

In short, it's a giant pain-in-the-ass. But an interesting one, nonetheless. Which is why you should read the entire story over at [The Atlantic].