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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kewaunee Nuclear Electric Generating Facility Decomissioning

Dominion Energy, the current owner of the facility has said that they just cannot find a buyer for the nuke "plant". Although many long-term questions cannot be answered, the latest news is that the facility is being taken offline because it is too expensive to operate and the costs exceed the value of electricity that it can produce. They claim that if they had been able to purchase the other two reactors at Point Beach (just a few miles away) that they would have been able to keep both facilities open because of "scale" issues. Now, with Kewaunee not producing power, only about 10-15% of Wisconsin's energy is being produced by nuclear. Still, in spite of this "shut down", there are several facilities that will cost billions to "clean up" and/or threaten future generations with hazardous waste that will be a problem for many centuries. As more and more decisions about nuclear energy are made for economic reasons, health and safety are often the first considerations to go by the wayside.

The high-level nuclear waste at Kewaunee will continue to be held in the reactor core for at least seven years. The entire facility will eventually be left to the local folks to deal with. Dominion has said that the entire facility would be dismantled in about sixty years, but when a corporation has a track record of only doing the right thing when forced, it leads to serious questions that have remained skillfully unanswered. As part of the agreements that led to the building of this facility in the first place, the land on which the reactor sits is still owned by the local township. The land itself is not owned by Dominion. It was agreed that because of the high risk associated with the production of nuclear power, the owners would pay all of the property taxes for the entire township. If you hate paying property taxes, move here they said, the energy they were wanting to produce was supposed to be "too cheap to meter", so sharing the wealth with locals seemed like a good idea. Even so, as one drives through the area, they are struck with the lack of infrastructure, development and homes nearby.

As part of the compensation to local government, the federal government required the original owners of the facility to also pay for a fire department and out of the "goodness" of their heart, the nuke "plant" operators paid for everyone in Two Creeks Township to receive free cable television and a few premium channels. A friend, who has suffered through brain cancer, grew up just down the road from the facility yet still thinks it is a good neighbor. Numbers of employees, the vast majority who live many miles from the facility, range from less than 650 up to 900. Virtually all of these positions will be done for good within the coming month. What has been said about these job losses is that a few people will be given an option to move to one of Dominion's East Coast facilities, but that within a month or two, just a small percentage of them would stay on to babysit the waste and provide security.

The wealth and riches that were supposed to flow from the facility are going away and the waste will remain virtually forever. On the day that Kewaunee was taken off-line, I saw the entire reactor core containment building shrouded in a permanent cloud. This massive release of steam lasted for many hours. The press releases from Dominion said that a "puff" of smoke would be seen around noon and not to worry, that it was a "normal" part of the decommissioning. Like virtually everything we are told about nuclear energy, it is frequently too little too late or just enough to assuage fears and stop people from asking crucial questions about what is really going on behind the security emplacements at the perimeter.

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