AREVA signs deal to dismantle Vermont Yankee reactor

VERNON – A Washington, D.C.-based company has signed a contract to take apart and ship away Vermont Yankee’s reactor.

AREVA Nuclear Materials’ deal with NorthStar Group Services is contingent on NorthStar receiving state and federal permission to buy and decommission the idled Vernon nuclear plant.

AREVA’s involvement in the cleanup project has been known since the proposed NorthStar deal went public last November.

But administrators on Tuesday said the contract signing “formalizes” the company’s role in what would be a crucial, expensive part of the decommissioning job.

“‎Our decades of experience decommissioning large nuclear reactors and our proven dismantling technologies provide the certainty required to execute this critical step in the safe and efficient removal of the reactor from the Vermont Yankee site,” said Sam Shakir, AREVA Nuclear Materials president and chief executive officer.

New York-based NorthStar is promising to clean up most of the Vermont Yankee site no later than 2030 and possibly as early as 2026. That’s decades faster than current owner Entergy had been planning.

Entergy wants to close the NorthStar deal by the end of next year. But the sale is contingent on approvals from the Vermont Public Utility Commission and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and both of those reviews are ongoing.

NorthStar has experience in decommissioning smaller research reactors. But the company has heavily promoted AREVA’s experience – both in the U.S. and overseas – with taking apart much larger, commercial reactors like Vermont Yankee’s.

Last month, a top AREVA Nuclear Materials executive visited Vernon to detail his company’s qualifications.

AREVA’s decommissioning task will be to “segment, package and transport to offsite disposal the Vermont Yankee reactor pressure vessel and internal reactor components,” administrators said in Tuesday’s announcement.

Those jobs are pricey: NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State has testified that cutting up the reactor vessel will cost more than $25 million, while segmenting the vessel’s internal components will cost more than $50 million.

The total amount of AREVA’s new contract with NorthStar was not disclosed on Tuesday.

“The contract value is competitive information that we do not share publicly, though it is a fixed-price contract,” AREVA spokesman Curtis Roberts said.

“We expect to complete the contract in 2020,” Roberts added.

AREVA describes Vermont Yankee’s reactor vessel as “a large steel cylinder with 5-inch-thick walls, about as long as a 54-foot semi-truck and trailer and twice the width of the trailer.”

The company first will dismantle the reactor’s internal components. Executives have said that process – along with the packaging of the resulting pieces – will happen underwater.

AREVA will ship that material in sealed casks to Waste Control Specialists’ radioactive waste disposal facility in Andrews, Texas.

Then the reactor vessel itself will be “precisely cut … into large pieces, each specifically designed in final shape and weight to fulfill regulatory requirements for offsite transport and disposal,” AREVA says.

In addition to dismantling Vermont Yankee’s reactor, AREVA also will be supporting long-term management of the plant’s spent nuclear fuel. That fuel will remain on site in sealed casks for the foreseeable future, until the federal government comes up with a centralized storage solution for such “high level” nuclear waste.

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  • Lester French

    The spent fuel will remain on site since the federal government has not acted on their mandate to provide a national repository for spent fuel and reprocessing has been blocked. The building and components are now waste.