New England Nuclear Power: A Time of Reckoning04 Dec

Thirty percent of New England’s electricity generation is from nuclear plants (ISO Regional System Plan 2011). Three out of five of these five plants are past their design life time. All use mostly imported uranium, and exercise questionable safety by storing greater numbers of densely packed, spent fuel rods at the plants. Nuclear power plants have a finite life time. Replacing a decommissioned plant with another will be extremely expensive and time consuming. For example, an AP1000 nuclear power plant (Generation III+) built by Westinghouse will cost between $5B to $7B per reactor and be operational 60 months from receipt of order.

New England Nuclear Plants: This region has 5 nuclear reactors, one each at Vermont Yankee, Seabrook, Pilgrim and 2 reactors at Millstone (units 2 and 3). The reactors at Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Millstone (unit 2) were commissioned in the 1970s. Commissioning dates for Millstone (unit 3) and Seabrook were 1986 and 1990, respectively. Operating license renewals have been granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Vermont Yankee (2032), Millstone (unit 2, 2035; unit 3, 2045), and Seabrook (2026). The license for Pilgrim is schedule to expire in 2012.

Lifespan: The design lifespan is usually 30 to 40 years. Although most elements in a nuclear power plant can be replaced, the reactor vessel cannot be replaced after it is no longer neutron leak proof. That lifespan limitation applies to 3 of the 5 reactors in New England. Government and industry experts are now considering the possibility of operating lifetimes of 80 years.

Uranium Imports: In my blog post of March 24, 2011, I wrote that the United States imports more than 90 percent of its uranium needs, where 23 percent comes from Russia and 15 percent from Kazakhstan. These statistics do not inspire confidence about reliable, secure fuel access to power New England nuclear plants.

Storage of Spent Fuel Rods: Congress passed a law in 1982 authorizing the creation of a national storage facility for spent fuel rods. The execution of that law ceased when the Obama administration canceled plans for storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. “New England plants…have already generated over 4200 tons of spent fuel…but the plants have no clear financial plan on how to pay for long-term storage. The spent fuel sits at or near…regional reactors in either pools of water or dry cement fortifications known as ‘dry casks,’ which cost between $6 to 8 million annually per plant to secure.”  “If water is lost from a densely packed pool as the result of an attack or an accident, cooling by ambient air would likely be insufficient to prevent a fire, resulting in the release of large quantities of radioactivity to the environment.

Decommissioning: There is considerable cost pressure to extend nuclear plant operating lifetimes due to expense and time of decommissioning these installations, as well as cost and time to construct new nuclear plants. For example, three such decommissioning occurred in New England: Yankee Rowe ($608M, 1991), Maine Yankee ($635M, 1996) and Connecticut Yankee ($820M, 1996). The decommissioning process can take decades.

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4 Responses to “New England Nuclear Power: A Time of Reckoning”

  1. Nuclear Plant Safety versus Profit | JHEverson Consulting Reply

    […] a blog post of December 4, 2011, I wrote, “Thirty percent of New England’s electricity generation is from […]

  2. The Reality of U.S. Energy Policy: Foreign Dependency, Insignificant Renewable Energies, and Potentially Unsafe Nuclear Plants | JHEverson Consulting Reply

    […] – Unsafe Nuclear Waste Storage: Storage of spent nuclear fuel has not yet been resolved. Spent fuel is stored at nuclear plants, and could […]

  3. Leslie Lawrence Reply

    Excellent, Jeff!
    Pixie Lambert in Duxbury is the voice of our safety. She has been on Greater Boston and has testified MANY times.
    Our town manager has petitioned and finally forced Scott Brown to stand up to the NRA and Pilgrin relicenceing. There is no evactuation route now that would work, and in light of Fukashima, the area of evacuation should be mega times what it is now.
    Something little known and/or not made known or emphasized, is that in thelate 1980’s or early 1990’s, the cows were removed from Plimouth Plantation because they were radioactive!! Hellooooooooo!
    Wouldn’t it be nice to leave a clean Earth for future generations? Native Americans knew this. So much for modern society. Intelligence quotient: native Americans, 10+, modern society, 0-.
    Going now to plant seeds in my vegetable garden. Great exercise, fresh air, vitiman D, and non toxic food to consume!
    Take a trip to beautiful Duxbury and I’ll share my bounty with you!

  4. The Problem with Nuclear Power Plants and What To Do About It | JHEverson Consulting Reply

    […] Decommissioning a nuclear power plant will cost at least $600M and require several years. The cost of a new reactor […]

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About Dr. Everson

Prior to forming this SBIR consultant practice, Dr. Jeffrey Everson was director of business development for QinetiQ North America’s Technology Solutions Group (previously Foster-Miller, Inc.).

Dr. Everson has won and been the principal investigator for several SBIR programs, including a Phase I program for NASA, a Phase I project for the U.S. Air Force, and Phase I and II contracts from the U.S. Department of Transportation. For the Phase II program, he received a Tibbetts Award for exemplifying the best in SBIR achievement.

Previously Dr. Everson held senior scientist positions at Battelle Memorial Institute, The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC), Honeywell Electro Optics Systems Division, and Itek Optical Systems Division.

He holds a PhD in physics from Boston College and a MS/BS in physics from Northeastern University.


For more information about how JHEverson Consulting can help your company with its SBIR and STTR proposals, please contact Jeff Everson.

JHEverson Consulting is based in the Boston area but consults for clients throughout North America. It also is supported by affiliated consultants.