ARKANSAS, Nov 11 (Future Headlines)- The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has achieved a significant milestone in the decommissioning process of the Zion nuclear power plant in Illinois. The NRC has released most of the former plant site for unrestricted use, signifying the completion of decommissioning activities at the location. The Zion plant, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, housed two pressurized water units: unit 1 operated from 1973 until 1997, and unit 2 from 1974 to 1996. After being declared permanently shut down in 1998 by the then-operator Commonwealth Edison (part of Exelon), the site underwent an innovative accelerated decommissioning process initiated in 2010.

Zion’s decommissioning was conducted by EnergySolutions subsidiary ZionSolutions, following the transfer of reactor licenses in 2010. The decommissioning project, with a budget of USD 1 billion, spanned ten years, making it the largest commercial nuclear plant dismantling effort in the USA.

The decommissioning arrangement for Zion represented a first-of-its-kind initiative, aiming for an expedited process and transfer of responsibilities to a dedicated subsidiary. Constellation Energy, having separated from Exelon Generation’s regulated and competitive energy businesses, now holds the Zion units in its portfolio.

The NRC’s recent decision to release most of the former Zion site for unrestricted use signifies regulatory approval of the completion of decommissioning activities. Unrestricted use means that any remaining radiation on the site is below NRC’s established limits, removing the need for ongoing regulatory controls.

While the majority of the site is now available for any application, a storage facility for the plant’s used fuel will remain under NRC license and oversight. ZionSolutions is set to transfer the spent fuel storage facility license to Constellation Energy Generation, ensuring security and protection until offsite storage or permanent disposal options become available.

Constellation Energy Generation will assume responsibility for the security and protection of Zion’s spent fuel facility, aligning with the regulatory transition and decommissioning completion. The site’s release for unrestricted use allows Constellation to utilize the remaining portion of the former plant site for various applications.

The Zion decommissioning project represents a historic and ambitious endeavor in the commercial nuclear sector in the USA, demonstrating the successful dismantling of a nuclear plant over a decade.

The release of the Zion nuclear plant site for unrestricted use by the NRC marks the successful conclusion of an unprecedented decommissioning effort. Constellation Energy Generation, now holding the site in its portfolio, has the flexibility to repurpose the majority of the former plant site for various applications. The completion of the USD 1 billion, 10-year decommissioning project stands as a significant achievement in the field of nuclear energy, showcasing innovative approaches to accelerate the decommissioning process while adhering to rigorous regulatory standards.

Editing by Sarah White