Vermont Yankee has moved the last of its spent nuclear fuel into huge steel and concrete casks where it will be stored for decades near the Connecticut River in southern Vermont.
Vermont Yankee completed the project ahead of schedule this week, and without any mishaps, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said the NRC has now allowed Entergy, the plant’s owner, to shrink the size of the area where it needs to maintain a high-level security program.
“That’s where the key focus is, on that high-level nuclear waste that is stored in those casks,” Sheehan said. “So this is consistent with what we’ve seen in other plants and really reflective of the change in security conditions at the facility.”
Vermont Yankee operated for 42 years before shutting down at the end of 2014. All of the highly radioactive spent fuel is now stored in 58 casks at the Vernon site.
Entergy said in a news release that the spent fuel transfer is an important milestone in decommissioning the facility, and helps clear the way for the sale of the plant to NorthStar Group Services, Inc.
The Vermont Public Utility Commission and the NRC are reviewing that transaction, and the sale is expected to close at the end of the year.
Sheehan said the nuclear waste may have to remain there in Vernon for decades, because the country does not yet have a long-term storage site for nuclear waste.
Sheehan said the NRC has licensed the casks for 20 years, and Entergy can seek 40-year extensions. But, he said, the casks can last for much longer.
“The fuel could stay there essentially indefinitely," Sheehan said. "But generally the idea is that after about 100 years the fuel would have to be loaded into a new cask. The embrittlement that would occur, the metallurgical effects of that fuel being in there for all that time, it would probably need to be transferred to a new cask. But other than that, these casks are designed to hold the fuel for many, many decades.”