As the Millstone nuclear power plant braces for fuel starvation, Dominion Energy spokesman Ken Holt took two Day reporters on a three-hour visit on Thursday afternoon.
It included the turbine generator building, the spent fuel storage, the Long Island Sound water intake and outlet, and other parts of the vast facility, which appears to function as a city on its own. Holt noted that security crews, electricians, cafeteria workers, a doctor, nurses and others populate the 550-acre Millstone campus, in addition to factory operators.
Prior to the tour, he offered an update on operations at Millstone.
There are currently 800 to 1,000 contractors preparing for the planned fall shutdown. Dominion Energy hasn’t revealed exactly when the blackout will occur, but Holt said the company would likely send out a notice the day before. Millstone’s two nuclear reactors are partially refueled every 18 months, and the month-long process typically requires an influx of hundreds of specialist workers, including electricians, pipefitters, and the like, who typically travel to factories across the country. countries to perform similar operations.
The federal government was committed to taking possession of the nuclear waste from the facilities, but later returned, meaning Millstone is storing its used fuel there. In addition to the spent fuel pools, the plant has dry storage in concrete-coated metal containers, which can be safely stored for decades. Holt said Thursday that Millstone’s dry storage can hold the fuel for 60 years.
It is possible that Millstone could continue to operate for 100 years. The Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans to extend the license renewal to 100 years of plant operation. Nuclear power plants were originally licensed for 40 years, which were later extended from 20 years to 60, and a subsequent renewal brought that number to 80 years.
“If we carry on for another 20 years with a subsequent license renewal, we may need to expand this area,” Holt said. “We basically build little garages that we put these bottles of fuel in, and if the federal government takes the fuel – there are a couple of temporary locations in Texas and New Mexico that put up their hands and said, ‘Hey, we would be prepared to store the fuel here ‘- as we empty the garages where the cylinders are, that leaves them open, and then we could put another cylinder in there.
The factory has three units but only two of them are operational; Unit 1 was closed in the late 1990s, before Dominion Energy took ownership of the property. Holt said the plant operated more efficiently with two units than with the three under Northeast Utilities.
Holt said the possibility of license renewal doesn’t necessarily change Millstone’s ongoing process of repairing or replacing equipment, and Dominion still looks decades later. Millstone has already replaced its steam generator on Unit 2. During the spring shutdown next year, “we’re going to replace the main generator on Unit 3, it’s like a 108 million dollar project. dollars ”.
“Having our contract with the state allows us to plan that kind of work and make those kinds of decisions,” Holt said. “We went to the state and said, ‘Look, we don’t want to run this place with a very small margin because that’s when you start making decisions that affect security, that is. That’s when you start cutting corners, and Dominion is “I’m not going to exploit this place by cutting corners.” We know a way to run a factory, and it’s safe, and it takes money and investment.
After several security checks and an exhausting climb of the stairs into the turbine building at over 100 degrees while wearing helmets, masks, earplugs and goggles, Holt and the two reporters exited. He said two things are commonly associated with nuclear power plants: cooling towers and domes. Millstone does not have a cooling tower because “the waters of Long Island Sound are the cooling tower.” And the domes of the factory are under closed structures.
Millstone takes water from the strait to cool its reactors, then discharges the heated water into the strait. This sparked concern among environmentalists, and Millstone made it clear – as Holt reiterated on Thursday – that the plant would shut down before installing cooling towers, which are expensive structures that can remove heat from the air. water before releasing it.
Holt said Millstone has minimal environmental impact on the surrounding area. He noted that Millstone reduces the flow of water from the Strait during the winter plaice spawning season in the spring, so that fewer eggs and larvae pass through the system, which would kill them.
The water used in the reactors is New London City water that has been purified. Water taken from Long Island Sound is used as service and circulation water to provide cooling water for the main condenser. Before being used, the water from the Strait is filtered so that any fish and lobster found there can be dumped into the Strait.
The Millstone campus has a laboratory that studies the environmental impact of the plant on Long Island Sound.
The 550 acres are also home to wildlife. Holt said employees encountered turkeys, bobcats and deer. Geese can be seen in the field, waddling between the huge gray structures of the plant. Bird nests are located near high voltage areas – ospreys, gulls, and even a peregrine falcon have made Millstone their home. People often fish near the abandoned rock quarry. Millstone empties its outlet water into it.
Millstone is New England’s largest power generation system, carrying 10-20% of the region’s electrical load. The plant supplies about half of Connecticut’s energy in a year.
But the plant also depends on electricity to operate. Holt said the plant has to pay an electricity bill to Eversource. If the electricity is cut, the plant has several backups, including a diesel generator.
Dominion spends between $ 60 million and $ 100 million per year on equipment and implementation of new systems, such as digital controls. In a single unit, improvements made over the past year totaled $ 91.4 million. Dominion plans to spend over $ 200 million on upgrades and replacements starting with Unit 2’s next supply blackout.
Holt said employees rarely enter a reactor when it is operating. However, when it is shut down, many people come in to perform maintenance, taking into account their time, distance and protection from the reactor. The factory has spent 1,421 days since its last accident reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2021, there have been five first aid incidents so far.
Holt said workers’ radiation exposure had declined over the past two decades, later pointing to a banner in a cafeteria in an office building in Millstone detailing specific levels of radiation and showing the decline.
“We’ve actually set records over the past 10 years, each outage has been less than the previous one,” he said. “We know how many people should be in a radiologically controlled area, we have better techniques for keeping people waiting in a low dose area.”
“With radiation, there are three things that concern you: time, distance and shielding,” he noted. “If you can reduce the time, increase the distance from the source, or put a shield between you and the source, then you will reduce your exposure.”
At the front desk of a Millstone office building is an “ALARA”, or “as low as reasonably achievable” suggestion box, where employees can make anonymous suggestions on how to reduce radiation exposure. Holt said Dominion encourages its employees to come to the company, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or even the news media for safety concerns.