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Saturday, September 18, 1999

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Maine Yankee prepares for storing reactor vessel


© Copyright 1999 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

EDGECOMB — Maine Yankee officials are concerned they may not be able to ship the plant's reactor vessel to the only radioactive waste site that will take it closes.

South Carolina, tired of being called the "nuclear dumping ground of the nation," wants to close its Barnwell disposal site in a few years. It is the only place in the nation that accepts "hot" low-level waste.

Maine Yankee expects to remove the 1,000-ton reactor vessel sometime in 2001. If Barnwell isn't available, the huge reactor will be packed in a shipping cask and stored on site, near the concrete casks containing the nuclear fuel rods, Vice President Mary Ann Lynch said Friday at a meeting of the Community Advisory Panel on Decommissioning in Edgecomb.

"If it closes, we're prepared to deal with it," she said.

Plant officials intend to file their nuclear license termination plan with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Nov. 1, two years ahead of schedule. "We are doing this early to reduce the risk of rejection," said Lynch.

The federal agency has turned down closure applications from nuclear plants in Oregon and Pennsylvania for lack of details. "We want to ensure that we don't have the same problem," Lynch said.

It's expected that the NRC will set a February 2000 date for a hearing, and approve the plan by June.

When it comes to decommissioning, Maine Yankee is breaking new ground.

The plant is the first in the nation to be dismantled by a contractor: Stone & Webster of Boston. And it's the first to negotiate a fixed cost for the work: $250 million. Other plants have done the job themselves, contracting some work on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Maine Yankee is also one of the first nuclear plants to be decommissioned under new federal guidelines. "The first time for anything requires a lot of education, and brings up a lot of questions," state Nuclear Safety Advisor Uldis Vanags, a member of the advisory panel, said after the meeting.

Earlier this week, state officials sent a letter to the NRC raising concerns about Maine Yankee's plans to "rubble-ize" contaminated concrete and bury it on site. "The state feels there would be too much radioactive material left behind," Vanags said.

Maine Yankee faces other hurdles, too.

The state Board of Environmental Protection wants to oversee the Wiscasset plant's high-level nuclear waste storage, a move challenged by Maine Yankee in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday.

Finally, panel member Ray Shadis, representing Friends of the Coast against nuclear pollution, said he will shortly submit a petition to the Department of Human Services forcing a public hearing on the plant's decontamination goal of 25 millirems of background radioactivity per year. Shadis wants to see a tighter standard of 10 millirems.

The 25 millirems would only apply to a person sitting on one acre of the property, where the plant used to be, noted Stone & Webster Licensing Manager Paul Bemis. "The rest of the 800 acres would be clean," he told the gathering.

There are now 302 workers on site cutting pipes, removing equipment and demolishing buildings.

This fall Stone & Webster will make a decision whether to build a gas-fired power plant at the former Maine Yankee site, close to where the plant's information center used to be. To be competitive, the contractor said, the new plant would have to be built by the end of 2002.

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