Spent Fuel Storage / Removal

Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company located on Bailey Point Peninsula in Wiscasset, Maine is an interim facility for the safe, secure storage of spent nuclear fuel.   The facility is staffed seven days a week, 24 hours a day.   This will remain the case until the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) fulfills its obligation to dispose of this material or another viable solution for removing the spent fuel from the site emerges.

 

By statute and contract DOE was to have begun removing spent nuclear fuel from Maine Yankee in 1998. To date, DOE has not removed any spent fuel from the site, and it is uncertain when it will. As discussed below, Maine Yankee is seeking monetary damages in litigation against the federal government for its failure to remove the spent nuclear fuel. In the meantime, it is Maine Yankee's responsibility to store the spent nuclear fuel in accordance with its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license and all applicable regulations.

 

From 1972 until permanent shutdown in 1997, Maine Yankee operated a 900 megawatt pressurized water reactor at the Wiscasset site.   The nuclear power plant underwent a successful decommissioning from 1997-2005 with all plant structures removed to three feet below grade and the site restored to stringent clean-up standards.   See more under Decommissioning Overview.

 

The plant's spent nuclear fuel as well as its Greater than Class C (GTCC) waste (irradiated steel removed from the plant's reactor vessel) is stored in dry cask storage units at Maine Yankee's Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI).   The ISFSI was constructed during the decommissioning project.   Like spent nuclear fuel, GTCC waste is the responsibility of the federal government to dispose.

 


Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation

 

The NRC licenses and regulates two methods of spent fuel storage: spent fuel pools where water removes decay heat from the fuel assemblies and provides shielding from radioactivity; and dry cask storage containers where circulating air removes the decay heat and massive steel and concrete casks provide the radiological shielding.  Both methods require an NRC approved security system, emergency plan, and monitoring.

 

During plant decommissioning Maine Yankee's 1434 spent fuel assemblies were moved from the plant's fuel pool to the newly constructed dry cask storage facility known as the ISFSI.  Following final transfer of the spent fuel to the ISFSI in February 2004, the spent fuel pool was drained, demolished and removed along with the rest of the former power plant. 

 

The ISFSI is an approximately 11-acre open-air facility with an adjacent security and operations building. The facility contains 60 air-tight sealed steel canisters of spent nuclear fuel and four of GTCC waste.  These air-tight steel canisters are housed inside massive concrete and steel casks on concrete pads.  Vents at the base and top of each cask circulate air that removes decay heat from the spent nuclear fuel.  The system is completely passive.  Each cask is monitored remotely from the operations center.  Technicians also make regular rounds to assure, among other things, that the air vents remain free of snow or debris. 

 

Maine Yankee uses NAC International's (NAC) UMS system to house its spent nuclear fuel and GTCC waste. NAC International is located in Atlanta, Georgia and is one of the world's leading fuel cycle experts. The NAC UMS system is licensed by the NRC for both storage and transport. Dry cask storage is widely used throughout the United States and internationally.

 

For more information on the storage of spent nuclear fuel go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy, and/or the Nuclear Energy Institute's web sites.

 


Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel 

 

When the time comes to move the spent nuclear fuel and GTCC waste from the Maine Yankee site, the sealed canisters containing the spent fuel and GTCC waste will be removed from the concrete casks and shipped in specially designed transport casks.  Transportation from the site could be by either rail, barge, or heavy haul truck.  

 


Spent Nuclear Fuel Removal

DOE's Obligation

Under a contract that the U.S. Department of Energy signed with all nuclear plant owners, as well as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the DOE was to have a disposal facility open and receiving spent fuel from Maine Yankee and other commercial plants by January 31, 1998.  Because the DOE missed the 1998 deadline and has yet to remove any spent nuclear fuel, Maine Yankee must plan to store spent fuel on-site for perhaps many years.

In return for DOE removing the spent nuclear fuel, electric ratepayers who benefit from nuclear power pay for the disposal of the spent fuel. Nationally electric ratepayers have met their side of the bargain having paid tens of billions of dollars into the federal Nuclear Waste Fund. They have yet to receive anything in return.


Litigation over DOE's Failure to Remove Spent Fuel

Since 1998 Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company, Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, and Yankee Atomic Electric Company have been in litigation with the DOE seeking monetary damages for the DOE's partial breach of its contractual obligations to begin removing spent nuclear fuel and Greater than Class C waste from the three sites by the end of January 1998. At the conclusion of the first round of damage (Phase I) cases and all appeals in early 2013, the three companies received payment of approximately $160 million in court awarded damages from the Federal Government for the years through 2001 for Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Atomic and through 2002 for Maine Yankee.

 

In November 2013, as a result of the Phase II litigation filed in 2007, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge James F. Merow awarded the three companies approximately $235.4 million in damages for the years 2002/3-2008 resulting from DOE's continuing failure to remove the spent nuclear fuel and Greater than Class C waste from the sites. The Federal Government decided not to appeal Judge Merow's ruling and the Phase II awards were paid by the U.S. Treasury to the three companies in the spring of 2014. The funds have been disbursed consistent with the provisions of a 2013 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order. The FERC approved a filing following the award of the Phase I damages funds that accepted an agreement reached between the three companies and the state utility regulators in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts that have historically intervened in the companies' FERC rate cases. That agreement detailed an approach for applying the Phase I damages proceeds and future damages awards that best serves the interests of the ratepayers in their state.

 

In April 2016 as a result of the Phase III litigation filed in 2013, Judge Merow unsealed and released his decision awarding the three companies approximately $76.8 million in damages for the years 2009/2012 resulting from the DOE’s continuing failure to remove the spent nuclear fuel and Greater than Class C waste from the sites. The longer the federal government delays in fulfilling its contractual obligations, the longer the companies' damages will continue.

 

Please go to the Document Room to read the court decisions and company statements that include further background information regarding the ongoing litigation.

 


Other Spent Fuel Removal Efforts

Maine Yankee is regularly engaged with others in Maine, New England and nationally to bring pressure on the federal government to move the spent fuel and to identify creative solutions to this difficult problem.  Our partners in this effort include the State of Maine, the Maine congressional delegation, other New England states, Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Rowe, members of our Community Advisory Panel, as well as others throughout the country who have spent fuel stranded at nuclear plants in their communities.

Within that context Maine Yankee participates in a number of groups dedicated to moving the spent nuclear fuel. They are: the Decommissioning Plant Coalition, a group of single-unit shutdown plants located in New England, the mid-west, and California; the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, a group of state regulators, utilities, tribes and others; and an Interim Storage Alternatives Forum that seeks to move spent fuel out of New England.


Community Advisory Panel

The Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel on Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage and Removal was established in March 2005 to enhance open communication, public involvement and education on the interim storage of spent nuclear fuel at Maine Yankee and to advocate for its prompt removal from Maine Yankee.  Click on Document Room to view the CAP Charter and CAP meeting minutes.

The panel is an outgrowth of its predecessor the Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel on Decommissioning which was integral to the success of plant decommissioning from the beginning of the project in August 1997.

All CAP meetings are open to the public and each meeting agenda includes a public comment period.  CAP members include the governor's representative, the senator from Lincoln County, a business representative from the development north of Maine Yankee's ISFSI, a representative from the Town of Wiscasset, a Maine Yankee representative, and members of the former decommissioning CAP.  CAP members have extensive knowledge about the storage and transport of spent nuclear fuel as well as the history of the government's failure to meet its obligation for removing this material.