Vallecitos reactor removal complete

14 November 2023

Nearly 60 years after shutting down for the last time, the reactor vessel of the prototype boiling water reactor in California has been removed from its containment and shipped for final disposal by NorthStar Group Services, Inc.

The reactor vessel is removed from its containment (Image: NorthStar)

The Vallecitos Boiling Water Reactor (VBWR) was the first privately owned and operated nuclear power plant to deliver significant quantities of electricity to a public grid and was also the first nuclear power plant to be licensed by the US Atomic Energy Commission, bearing the licence number NPR-1. The 24 MWe reactor operated from 1957 to 1963. After its closure, it was deactivated, defuelled, and put into so-called SAFESTOR status in preparation for eventual decommissioning.

SAFESTOR - or SAFSTOR - according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a long-term storage condition for a permanently shut-down nuclear power plant during which radioactive contamination decreases substantially, making subsequent decontamination and demolition easier and reducing the amount of low-level radioactive waste requiring disposal.

After more than a year of planning, the vessel - which is 9 feet (2.75 metres) in diameter, 22 feet tall and weighs more than 100,000 pounds (45 tonnes) - was prepared for shipment and removed by NorthStar. It was transported directly by road and rail to the licensed disposal facility of NorthStar affiliate Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Texas, where it arrived in early November.

The power plant was located at the Vallecitos Nuclear Center (VNC) in Sunol, California, about 40 miles (65 km) east of San Francisco. The site, owned by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), was also home to the General Electric Test Reactor and the ESADA Vallecitos Experimental Superheat Reactor, and was used for research work for the US Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear energy programme and the civilian nuclear power industry from 1965-1975. Decommissioning of the other reactors at the VNC is also under way.

Archive newsreel of the opening of the Vallecitos Atomic Electric Power Plant in 1957 (CharlieDeanArchives)

In May, NorthStar and GEH announced plans to eventually transfer ownership of the entire VNC to NorthStar to complete decommissioning and site restoration. The companies are currently seeking the regulatory approvals necessary to enable full transfer of the site and associated licence to NorthStar, NorthStar said.

NorthStar is also carrying out decommissioning and site restoration at the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power station site, which it purchased from Entergy in 2019, just over four years after the 604 MWe boiling water reactor's closure. It is also carrying out accelerated decommissioning of Duke Energy's Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant in Florida through its Accelerated Decommissioning Partners joint venture with Orano USA.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News