Yankee Rowe closing took 15 years, $608 million
ROWE — From 1960 to 1992, the Yankee Atomic Electric Co. nuclear power plant — the third nuclear plant built in the nation — produced about 44 billion kilowatt hours of electricity before its permanent shutdown on Feb. 27, 1992.
The official reason given for closing the plant was that it was no longer economically viable. The 185-megawatt Yankee Rowe plant was competing with much larger plants, such as the 1,244-megawatt Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire. Yankee Rowe had been built between 1958 and 1960 at a cost of $39 million.
But dismantling and decommissioning it would take nearly half its life span — at a cost of almost 16 times what it cost to build.
Today, an aerial view of the Yankee Rowe site shows a bucolic 1,600-acre landscape of rolling hills, a grassy field and a reservoir. Gone are the offices, where 220 workers were employed, and the sphere-shaped nuclear reactor containment vessel. All that remains is a fuel storage installation for highly radioactive spent fuel rods.
Breaking down the plant meant moving more than 21 miles of piping and tubing, 8,569 pipe hangers and 33 miles of conduit and cable. Also, six large components weighing more than 500 tons were taken away. Much of it was sent to a Barnwell, S.C., low-level radioactive waste disposal facility for permanent disposal.
According to Recorder files, by 1995, the largest remaining radioactive component left in Rowe was a 150-ton reactor vessel.
By April 1997, most of the 27-foot-long reactor vessel inched its way down River Road from Monroe to the Hoosac Tunnel, moving about a mile an hour, heading for a train ride to South Carolina. It had been lowered into a 3-inch thick carbon steel shipping container, with about 60 tons of concrete injected into the vessel, and between the vessel and the wall of the container.
In 2002, the 533 spent fuel assemblies at the Rowe plant were transferred to 16 above-ground steel canisters within reinforced concrete casks in a central, guarded location on site. Each storage cask weighs 110 tons.
In 2007, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Yankee Atomic’s license termination plan, reducing the federal license for the site to just 2 acres surrounding the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation site. All the plant buildings had been removed, the site had been cleaned and restoration complete. The cleanup met with state and federal regulations.
According to Bob Capstick, Yankee Rowe’s director of government regulations and public affairs, the final decommissioning cost was $608 million. He said the federal Nuclear Policy Act had intended for the federal government to take spent fuel rods from the site in 1998, however, plans to use Yucca Mountain in Nevada for a storage site had fallen through. Plans now call for keeping the highly radioactive waste on site indefinitely.
“If they had removed the fuel in 1998, we would already be gone from this site,” he remarked.
Yankee Rowe formed a Community Advisory Board in 1998, to consider future uses for the land, but has not made any decisions about the future use of its former plant site, according to Capstick. Yankee Rowe’s decommissioning activities include continued monitoring of groundwater, under state Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Its costs to continue monitoring the stored radioactive waste is about $8 million per year.
When asked how the Yankee Rowe plant’s closure affected the town, former Town Clerk and Selectman Susan Wood said the greatest concern had been about how the town would be affected economically.
“A lot of people moved to Rowe because they were working for Yankee Rowe,” she said. “We moved up here about a year after (the closure).”
After Yankee Rowe closed, she said, the homes were still occupied, and the elementary school still had a healthy student enrollment. She said some plant employees’ jobs were transferred to Vermont Yankee, but the employees themselves remained in Rowe. And, with the Bear Swamp Hydroelectric Facility still paying the largest share of the town’s tax base, homeowners were not much affected by revenue loss from the nuclear plant.
“But I think it’s going to be different for Vermont Yankee’s closure,” she remarked. “There’s a larger population there, so I think it’s going to have a bigger impact. Also, the NRC rules have gotten much stronger. I think the NRC is more of a regulatory commission today. I think (this decommissioning) is going to be a lot different.”