Exelon Set to Decommission Illinois Nuclear Plants

Exelon Generation has filed plans to decommission its Dresden and Byron nuclear power plants in Illinois, citing a lack of action from state lawmakers on clean energy legislation that would help save the facilities.

The nation’s largest operator of nuclear power plants on July 28 said it has submitted its plans to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which will set in motion the final steps to retire the decades-old plants. The company in a statement said, “The filings are among the final steps in retiring the plants, which face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars due to low energy prices and market policies that give fossil fuel plants an unfair competitive advantage. Absent a legislative solution, these same market inequities will force the company to close its Braidwood and LaSalle nuclear facilities sometime in the next few years.”

The Bryon Generating Station could be shut down within weeks after Exelon Generation filed decommissioning plans with the NRC on July 28. The plant has operated outside of Chicago since 1985. Courtesy: Exelon

The filings are known as the post-shutdown decommissioning activities report, or PSDAR. Exelon last year had announced that it was prepared to close the two nuclear plants due to poor economics. An Exelon spokesman on Wednesday said the company continues to hope that lawmakers will pass legislation that could keep the plants in operation, but said the company must begin the process of closing the plants.

“We understand that lawmakers continue to work on a legislative solution that would preserve Illinois’ nuclear fleet and we remain hopeful that clean energy legislation will pass in time for us to reverse these actions,” spokesman Paul Adams said in a statement. “However, without any certainty that a bill will pass, we must proceed with taking the final steps toward shutting down the plants, and that includes making regulatory filings such as the one we filed today with the NRC.”

Governor’s Energy Package

A spokesperson for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the governor’s office has presented a “comprehensive energy package” to the legislature that would maintain jobs and put Illinois on a path to 100% clean energy by 2050. “The administration would hope the legislature will vote swiftly on this compromise bill that the governor would sign immediately,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

John Patterson, a spokesman for Don Harmon, president of the Illinois Senate, in a statement said, “Talks continue as everyone involved seeks to find the right balance for a future energy plan that is renewable, reliable and affordable. It’s a complex situation involving thousands of jobs, our climate future and every Illinoisans’ power bill, so clearly we want to get this right.”

Adams in his statement said Wednesday’s filing decision also is related to the need to refuel the plants, what he called a “complex” process costing “tens of millions of dollars” and requiring weeks to complete, with a need for more than 1,000 contract workers. “Whether to shut down or refuel is not a decision that can be made at the last minute, and we are currently just weeks away from Byron’s mid-September retirement date,” Adams said in his statement.

Dave Rhoades, Exelon Generation’s chief nuclear officer, in a statement said, “With no signs of a breakthrough on clean energy legislation in Springfield [the state capital], we have no choice but to take these final steps in preparation for shutting down the plants.”

The utility has said the 2,500-MW Byron Generating Station, located in Byron about 100 miles northwest of Chicago, would close in September. It entered commercial operation in 1985.

The Dresden Generating Station, an 1,800-MW plant located in Morris, about 62 miles southwest of Chicago, would shut down in November. The Dresden plant’s two remaining units have operated since 1970 and 1971, respectively.

Workers Notified of Job Losses

Exelon Generation said it is preparing to issue job reduction notifications to employees impacted by the plant shutdowns. The company in a statement said staffing at the plants, about 1,500 workers a year ago, will drop to just 30 to 40 employees over the next 10 years. State lawmakers have said they will continue to work on legislation to keep the Byron, Dresden, Braidwood, and LaSalle plants operating, as part of a state plan to grow clean energy generation and jobs in Illinois.

“We will never stop fighting for policies to preserve Illinois’ nuclear fleet, knowing that the minute these plants close our customers will experience dirtier air and higher energy costs,” said Rhoades. “But with time running out, we must plan for the future and do everything we can to prepare our employees and the communities they serve for what lies ahead.” Exelon said the plants support 28,000 direct and indirect jobs, and contribute about $3.5 billion each year to the state’s economy.

PJM, the regional grid operator, earlier said both Byron and Dresden could close without putting overall grid reliability at risk. Exelon Generation as part of the decommissioning process has up to 60 years to restore Byron and Dresden, which includes transporting the stations’ used fuel to long-term storage, decontaminating and removing plant components, and razing the remaining buildings.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).


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