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Alaska’s lone nuclear power plant to be decommissioned

May 16, 2018

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — An Army Corp of Engineers team is planning the formal decommissioning of the only nuclear power plant built in Alaska.

Fort Greely’s SM-1A plant provided steam and electricity to the Army post near Delta Junction off and on between 1962 and 1972, the Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.

It was one of eight experimental projects to test the use of small nuclear power plants at remote installations.

The Army Corps of Engineers team that is spearheading the decommissioning is based in Baltimore. It was at Fort Greely last month for a meeting on the plant. The team said it’s expected to take about 10 years to plan, contract out and clean up the site.

One particular challenge of decommissioning the site is that the steam plant previously powered by the nuclear reactor is still in use, although today it’s powered by a diesel-fired power plant.

“As we go through the planning process and ultimately through implementation, safety of the workers is a No. 1 priority,” said Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers’ team in Baltimore. “There will be a lot of coordination that will need to take place to minimize any impacts to the continued regular operation of the steam plant.”

Fort Greely was used mostly as a cold weather testing site in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1995, it was ordered shut down as part of a congressionally authorized nationwide base closure and realignment process. It was resurrected several years later, however, and since 2003 has housed most of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse missile interceptors, the country’s primary defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The plant was successful at powering and heating Fort Greely but was eventually deactivated because it was more expensive to operate than a conventional diesel power plant.

When the plant shut down in 1972, the Army chose to place the facility into a safe storage status instead of formally decommissioning it. The highly enriched uranium fuel and waste were shipped out of Alaska and radioactive components of the reactor were encased in cement.

There’s no estimate yet for the cost of decommissioning the plant, but such a project for a similar power facility has a budget of $66.4 million, the Daily News-Miner reported.

A timeline for the project indicates a request for proposals will be sent out by 2021, with a contract awarded in 2022.

The Corp of Engineers is decommissioning other experimental nuclear power plants at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and aboard the Sturgis, a former World War II Liberty Ship in Galveston, Texas, that was made into a floating plant and used in Panama in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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