Nuclear R&D: Usefulness of Information From Shippingport Decommissioning for Rancho Seco

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-06-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                      United   States   General   Accounting   Office

                      Report to the Honorable
GAO                   Vie Fazio, House of Representatives

June   1990
                      NUCLEAR R & D                                     ’
                      Usefulness of
                      Information From
                      Decommissioning for
                      Ranch0 Seco

GAO/RCED-90-   17 1
    United States
    General Accounting Office
    Washington, D.C. 20548

    Resources, Community,          and
    Economic Development           Division


    June 7,199O

    The Honorable Vie Fazio
    House of Representatives

    Dear Mr. Fazio:

    At a December 7, 1989, meeting, we agreed to provide you with informa-
    tion related to decommissioning the Ranch0 Seco, California, nuclear
    power plant.’ Specifically, we are providing information on the

l lessons learned from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decommissioning
  of the Shippingport, Pennsylvania, nuclear power plant and the useful-
  ness of this information to Ranch0 Seco and the commercial nuclear
  power industry in general; and
. additional questions that could be answered if DOEfunded a research
  project as part of the decommissioning activities for Ranch0 Seco.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued licenses to 55 utili-
    ties for 113 commercial plants. At the end of their useful lives, utilities
    must decommission the plants. Under NRC'Sregulations, utilities can take
    up to 60 years to complete these activities. However, Shippingport was
    not licensed by NRC.Rather, DOE and the Duquesne Light Company had a
    contract sharing ownership of the plant and requiring DOE to decommis-
    sion the plant at the end of its useful life. DOEdoes not have a similar
    obligation for Ranch0 Seco or other commercial plants.

     The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)shut down Ranch0
     Seco in June 1989 in response to a voter referendum. Although SMUD is
     developing a decommissioning plan that should be completed around
     July 1990, company officials told us that they may wait 20 to 30 years
     before they begin to physically decommission the plant. The information
     that we are providing on Shippingport was originally requested by the
     Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on Science,
     Space, and Technology. A more detailed report on Shippingport will be
     issued to that Committee at a later date.

     ‘Decommissioning includes reducing and/or removing radioactive contamination from buildings,
     equipment, and facility sites to a level that allows the property to be used for any purpose.

     Page 1                                                            GAO/RCED-W171 Ranch0 !3eco

                       DOE’S  activities at Shippingport increased the base of knowledge for
Results in Brief       decommissioning commercial nuclear power plants. However, the les-
                       sons learned may diminish by the time a large number of utilities decom-
                       mission their plants because DOE’S methods were significantly different
                       from those that may be used for Ranch0 Seco or other plants. Also, Ship-
                       pingport was much smaller and less radioactively contaminated than
                       other plants. In this regard, DOE removed the most highly radioactive
                       component, the reactor pressure vessel, in one piece. Utilities operating
                       commercial plants will probably have to disassemble (cut up) the reac-
                       tor pressure vessels because of their much larger size. Also, DOE disposed
                       of all the radioactive waste from Shippingport at its Hanford, Washing-
                       ton, facility. Utilities will have to dispose of waste at commercial sites at
                       substantially higher costs.

                       A DOE research effort at Ranch0 Seco could increase the information
                       available to utilities, especially if it includes cutting up the pressure ves-
                       sel. However, the additional information gained should be weighed
                       against the federal government’s research costs, particularly since many
                       years may elapse before utilities start to decommission a large number
                       of plants and the results of ongoing international decommissioning and
                       research activities may override Ranch0 Seco’s results.

                       Shippingport, a 72-megawatt pressurized water reactor,’ was smaller
Overview of the        than plants built during the 1960s and 1970s. The plant was constructed
Shippingport Project   during the mid-1950s as a joint project between DOE and the Duquesne
                       Light Company and operated from December 1957 to October 1982.
                       Under the contract, DOE owned the reactor and steam-generating por-
                       tions of the plant while the utility owned the electricity-generating por-
                       tion. According to DOE, the contract also required DOE to return the site
                       to safe conditions on or before 1994. Accordingly, DOE removed and dis-
                       posed of the fuel, decommissioned the plant at the end of its useful life,
                       and disposed of all waste generated from the decommissioning activities.
                       DOE disposed of about 216,000 cubic feet of radioactive or mixed waste
                       at its Hanford, Washington, site and sent the spent (used) fuel to its
                       Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. Presently, no disposal site
                       exists for the spent fuel from commercial plants; DOE expects that the
                       earliest a permanent site would be available is 2010. In addition, DOE
                       removed the reactor pressure vessel intact and shipped it by barge to
                       Hanford for disposal.

                        ‘Pressurized water reactors are those cooled by water that is kept at high pressure to prevent it from
                        boiling. The water passes through the nuclear fuel to a secondary system where steam is produced.

                        Page 2                                                              GAO/RCEBS&171 Ranch0 Seco

    -                  In September 1985, DOE began the physical decommissioning of Ship-
Lessons Learned From   pingport. DOE completed these activities in July 1989, including disman-
Decommissioning        tlement of the nonradioactive structures; certified in October 1989 that
Shippingport           the site was radiologically safe; and issued a final report on the project
                       in December 1989.3 The cost for these activities was $91.3 million, com-
                       pared with the $98.3 million originally estimated.

                       According to the December 1989 report, Shippingport provided useful
                       information to the commercial nuclear industry in a number of areas.
                       Some of the benefits cited in the report were that (1) a nuclear plant can
                       be decommissioned within the costs and time frames established, (2)
                       equipment and technology exist to decommission a nuclear plant, and
                       (3) strict management attention to planning can lead to reduced occupa-
                       tional exposures and efficient removal of radioactively contaminated
                       components. However, a number of uncertainties exist concerning the
                       overall usefulness of DOE’s information. For example, we noted that only
                        about 30 percent of DOE’S costs related to physical decommissioning
                        activities; the remaining 70 percent included oversight, management,
                        and other activities. Utilities, faced with setting aside funds to decom-
                        mission their plants and subject to scrutiny by public service commis-
                        sions when doing so, most likely could not incur the high level of
                        oversight and management costs that Shippingport involved.

                       Some significant differences exist between Shippingport and Ranch0
Differences Between    Seco. Shippingport was a 72-megawatt plant; Ranch0 Seco is a 913-
Shippingport and       megawatt plant, a more typical size for a commercial plant. Ship-
Ranch0 Seco            pingport was not licensed by NRC; Ranch0 Seco received a license in
                       1974. Shippingport operated for about 80,325 hours and produced about
                       7.4-billion kilowatt-hours of electricity; Ranch0 Seco operated for about
                       51,595 hours and produced about 44-billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.
                       Since extensive decontamination activities were conducted over the life
                       of the plant, Shippingport-including      the reactor pressure vessel4 -was
                       more radiologically clean than would be expected for a plant such as
                       Ranch0 Seco. Shippingport’s pressure vessel contained over 30,000
                       curies5 of radioactivity at the time the reactor was shut down while
                       Ranch0 Seco’s is estimated to be around l-million curies.

                        “Final Project Report Shippingport Station Decommissioning Project, Dec. 22,1989.

                        “Generally, reactor vessels are large, steel cylindrical vessels that can weigh almost 1,000 tons and
                        vary from about 46 to 70 feet in height. The walls of the vessels range from about 7- to 1l-inches
                        thick. Shippingport’s vessel weigh4 about 153 tons and was about 26 feet high.

                        ‘A curie is a measure of the rate of radioactive decay.

                        Page3                                                                 GAO/RCED-90-171
                                                                                                           Ranch0 Seco

                     In addition, according to DC)Eofficials, Shippingport did not generate any
                     of the most highly radioactive low-level waste that can remain hazard-
                     ous for a few hundred to tens of thousands of years (greater than Class
                     C).l; SMUDofficials said that decommissioning Ranch0 Seco will generate
                     such waste. Although these officials believe that the amount could be
                     considerable, they could not estimate the volume. The company is now
                     developing this and other information related to the amount of radioac-
                     tivity in the plant.

                     Shippingport left unanswered a number of questions concerning the
ResearchIssues Not   decommissioning of large commercial nuclear power plants.

Pressure Vessel      DOE  removed the pressure vessel at Shippingport in one piece. The pres-
                     sure vessel is the most highly contaminated part of a nuclear power
Decommissioning      plant. At Shippingport, 99 percent of all radioactivity was contained in
                     the pressure vessel. Although removal of the vessel in one piece mini-
                     mized worker exposures and costs, DOE’S actions did not provide the
                     nuclear industry with information on the problems that may be encoun-
                     tered if utilities must cut up this component. Utilities should derive bet-
                     ter information from the cleanup of the Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania,

NRC’s Review and     Shippingport was not licensed by NRC; therefore, DOE did not have to
                     obtain NRC'Sapproval for the decommissioning activities conducted at
Approval             the plant. Under NRC'Sregulations, a utility must submit a preliminary
                     plan about 5 years before it starts to decommission a plant. The plan
                     should address, among other things, funds that may be needed and the
                     method that will be used to decontaminate all radioactive structures to a
                     level where they can remain on the site without adversely affecting
                     public health and safety in the future.

                     Although NRCis responsible for ensuring that the utility satisfies the
                     agreed-upon plan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ulti-
                     mately responsible for setting the limits of residual radiation that can

                      “Low-level waste is waste that is not classified as uranium mill tailings, high-level waste, or spent
                      fuel, and consists of discarded tools, rags, machinery, paper, and protective clothing. About 3 percent
                      of such waste-greater than Class C-is contaminated with long-lived radioactive elements having
                      concentrations greater than those specified in 10 CFX Part 61 of NRC’s regulations. Presently, no
                      disposal site exists for such waste.

                      Page4                                                                GAO/RCED-90-171

                        remain on the site. EPAhas been developing such standards for several
                        years and expects to make them final no sooner than 1993. NRCwill then
                        incorporate EPA'Sstandards into its regulations.

                        In the absence of EPAstandards, DOE required at Shippingport that public
                        exposure from residual contamination should not exceed 100 millirem
                        per person per year.’ DOE'Sreport on the project indicates that public
                        exposures will not exceed 2 millirem annually. In the absence of EPA'S
                        standards, NRC has been suggesting that utilities decontaminate to a
                        level that would limit public exposures to 10 millirem a year-10 times
                        less than DOE required at Shippingportq

Decommissioning Costs   DOEspent $9 1.3 million to decommission Shippingport. Although little
                        actual data exist on the costs to decommission a large commercial plant,
                        most estimates are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of the
                        difference in costs between Shippingport and commercial plants can be
                        attributed to labor rates, costs for removing the pressure vessel, and
                        waste disposal costs. DOEdocuments show that it saved about $7 million
                        in decommissioning costs by removing the pressure vessel intact. Utili-
                        ties may not be able to use this option because of site-specific problems
                        to remove and transport the vessel in one piece. Also, the much higher
                        radioactivity in the pressure vessel may preclude its disposal in a com-
                        mercial site.

                        Furthermore, DOE sent all decommissioning waste from Shippingport to
                        its Hanford facility for disposal. Utilities will eventually have to dispose
                        of their waste in commercial sites -at a much higher cost. For example,
                        in 1986, low-level waste disposal costs at Hanford were $3.95 per cubic
                        foot; by 1989 the cost had increased to about $27.60 per cubic foot.!’
                        Also, after January 1993, low-level waste disposal costs could range
                        from $50 to $590 or more per cubic foot as a result of costly new facili-
                        ties-possibly as many as 16-that may be built by states or interstate
                        compacts to dispose of low-level waste. Therefore, significant differ-
                        ences exist between DOE'Swaste disposal costs for Shippingport and
                        those that could be experienced by nuclear utilities.

                        ‘Rem (Roentgen Equivalent Man) is a measurement used to quantify the effects of radiation on man.
                        A millirem is a thousandth of a rem.
                        ‘Currently, 11 nuclear plants are shut down; NRC has approved decommissioning plans for 5 of the

                        ‘The $27.60 does not include packaging, transportation, labor, materials. taxes, or the cubic-foot
                        surcharges allowed by the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act, as amended.

                        Page 5                                                               GAO/RCED-90-171 Ranch0 Seco

New Technology Not Used           One objective of the Shippingport project was to demonstrate that a
                                  nuclear power plant could be safely and economically decommissioned
at Shippingport                   using existing technology, such as manually dismantling radioactive pip-
                                  ing systems and components. Therefore, DOEdid not develop any new
                                  technology, such as remotely operated equipment, to decommission

                                  NRCprojects that the earliest nuclear plant operating license is due to
                                  expire in the year 2000, and by the year 2015 about one-half of the 113
                                  operating licenses currently in effect will terminate. Most of the remain-
                                  ing operating licenses will expire by about 2030. However, utilities can
                                  apply to NRCto extend the plants’ operating licenses. Because of the high
                                  cost of building new generating plants-either      nuclear or coal-and the
                                  increasing demand for electricity, utilities want to keep their existing
                                  plants in service for as long as it is safe and economical to do so. In
                                  addition, under NRC'Sregulations, utilities can take as long as 60 years to
                                  complete decommissioning activities. Therefore, many years may elapse
                                  before utilities dismantle a large number of plants, and new technology
                                  may be available at that time.

                                  Although not all-inclusive, the following sets forth some issues that DOE
Issues to Be                      should consider before funding a research project at Ranch0 Seco.
Considered If DOE
                          . Should DOEwait for the results from international research and other
Conducts Research at        activities before deciding to participate in the decommissioning of
Ranch0 Seco                 Ranch0 Seco? Presently, the United Kingdom is decommissioning two
                            reactors, and Japan is conducting research on using robotics to disman-
                            tle highly radioactive components. These efforts could duplicate or
                            negate the need for research at Ranch0 Seco.
                          l If DOEparticipated in the decommissioning of Ranch0 Seco through a
                            contractor, would the DOEcontractor assume the accident liability cover-
                            age of SMUD?The Price-Anderson Act (42 U.S.C. 2210) establishes a
                            mechanism for compensating the public for personal injury or property
                            damage in the event of a nuclear accident. The act provides “umbrella”
                            coverage and limits the liability for anyone (contractors, subcontractors,
                            vendors, suppliers, architect-engineers, and transporters) who performs
                            work in connection with commercial or government nuclear activities.
                            The act prescribes a system of private insurance and government indem-
                            nity to cover the off-site consequences of a nuclear accident at commer-
                             cial and government facilities.
                             If, for research purposes, DOEaccepts the spent fuel and greater-than-

                             Class C waste from Ranch0 Seco, would these actions set a precedent for

                                   Page6                                             GAO/RCEIHO-171
                  the industry? Under NRC'Sregulations, utilities must safely dispose of
                  waste generated during plant operations and from decommissioning
                  activities. Utilities must also ensure that the site meets certain criteria
                  before NRCcan terminate the license. Presently, no facility exists to per-
                  manently dispose of spent reactor fuel or greater-than-Class C waste.
              l   Has the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) been asked to, or
                  expressed an interest in, conducting research at Ranch0 Seco? Should
                  the industry take the lead in conducting and funding such an effort? EPRI
                  conducts research in such areas as advanced technology systems, energy
                  analysis, and environmental assessments for its 600 member utilities,
                  which provide about two-thirds of the nation’s electricity.

                  A research effort at Ranch0 Seco could increase the knowledge needed
Conclusions       to decommission nuclear power plants. However, utilities may not
                  decommission a large number of plants until well into the 21st century.
                  Therefore, DOEand the Congress will need to weigh the costs of con-
                  ducting research at Ranch0 Seco against the benefits to be derived over
                  the long term.

                  The information in this report on Shippingport is based on data that we
                  obtained to respond to a July 1989 letter from the Chairman and Rank-
                  ing Minority Member, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
                  We obtained other information through interviews with utility and
                  industry officials and previously issued GAOreports. We discussed the
                  information in this report with DOEand NRCstaff and incorporated their
                  views where appropriate. As requested, we did not ask DOEor NRCto
                  review and comment officially on this report. Our work was conducted
                  between January and March 1990 in accordance with generally accepted
                  government auditing standards.

                  As agreed with your office, we are sending copies of this report today to
                  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. We will also
                  make copies available to the Secretary, Department of Energy; the
                  Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and others upon request.

                  Page7                                             GAO,‘RCED-SO-171

Please call me at (202) 275-1441 if you have any questions. Major con-
tributors are listed in appendix I.

Director, Energy Issues

 Page8                                           GAO/‘RCED9O-171
Page9   GAO/‘RCED9&171
Appendix I

Major Contributors to This Fkport

                        Judy England-Joseph, Associate Director, Energy Issues
Resources,              Mary AM Kruslicky, Assistant Director
Community, and          Philip A. Olson, Senior Evaluator
Development Division,
Washington, DC.

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