The reactor of the former nuclear power plant on Humboldt Bay is almost completely dismantled and the next phase of decommissioning will see the installation of a rubberized concrete wall around the reactor site.
A team of experts from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was at Eureka’s Wharfinger Building on June 19 to update the community on the long-shuttered nuclear facility’s decommissioning.
Components of the reactor are being cut apart in a 26-foot-deep pool of water that also holds the last batch of the reactor’s spent fuel rods. The pool is encased by a steel liner and the spent rods are in a cask made of steel covered with concrete.
Bill Barley, a PG&E decommissioning manager, said the destinations of the radioactive materials vary and the “lesser activated materials” will be stored in liners for transfer to a burial site in Utah. The “mid-range” of the radioactive components can’t be accepted at the Utah site but can go to a site in Texas, he continued.
There is no waste disposal site that will accept the most highly activated materials – the spent fuel – so the cask that contains it will join others that are encased in an on-site storage facility.
Barley said the spent fuel casks will “stay on-site until such time as the Federal Government comes up with a place where that can go to – right now there is none.”
Once the spent fuel cask is moved and the reactor’s internal components are shipped out for disposal, the pool will be removed and enclosed around a concrete wall. Then the pool site will be filled with clean sand and soil.
Completion of work and the termination of the plant’s license are expected sometime in 2019.
The nuclear plant was built in 1963 and was shut down in 1976 after seismic faults were discovered near the reactor. The plan was to retrofit and refuel it but changes in nuclear regulatory standards made reopening financially infeasible.
PG&E got a license to store nuclear fuel onsite in 1988 and the company has been working on decommissioning the plant since.
Brittany McKannay, PG&E’s regional representative, said that much of the facility has been dismantled and now that the Humboldt Bay Generating Station is operating, “We can really put all of our efforts into taking down the structures on the remaining sections of the site.”
She added, “If you looked at the site now compared to a year ago you would see it looks much different – there’s a lot changing year to year.”
A variety of local, state and federal agencies are overseeing the work and McKannay said the goal is to bring the site to safe soil and well-water standards. A coastal trail and environmental habitat uses are being considered for the post-clean up.
The open house’s intent was to update the community on the decommissioning work and to detail effects like traffic impacts, said McKannay. “More importantly, we want to make sure community members have access to our experts,” she continued.
The two-hour event drew strong attendance that included Jen Kalt, the policy manager for Humboldt Baykeeper. She was asked how confident she is about the safety of the storage and disposal process.
“Not very confident at all but there’s a lot of good people involved trying to do the best they can,” she responded.
Kalt said she’s been on a tour of the plant and realized that “this power plant was never designed to be dismantled – these people are doing an amazing thing, trying to figure out where all the rebar and concrete is.”
She described the significantly-dismantled plant as a “bizarre” sight. “It’s like walking into the middle of Doctor Strangelove,” said Kalt, referring to film director Stanley Kubrick’s fanciful but relevant exploration of atomic age culture.
Kalt highlighted the exponential gap between the plant’s cost and the cost of getting rid of it. The nuclear facility cost about $22 million to build and PG&E Decommissioning Manager Kerry Rod said $382 million has been spent on decommissioning as of last May.
He said $950 million is expected to be spent by the time the work’s done.