Frequently Asked Questions

About the ZionSolutions Project



How many U.S. nuclear power plants have been decommissioned?
Ten nuclear power plants have been decommissioned in the United States.

What agencies oversee the decommissioning process in Illinois?
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

How long will the Zion decommissioning take?
Decommissioning, site restoration, and NRC license termination will take approximately 10 years.

What is ZionSolutions’ decommissioning experience?
ZionSolutions, with the support of resources from EnergySolutions, has extensive experience working with all U.S. nuclear power plants, including those engaged in decommissioning, as well as with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DOD) nuclear facilities. Many of ZionSolutions’ personnel were actively involved in the decommissioning of the Big Rock Point, Maine Yankee, Connecticut Yankee, Yankee Rowe, Rancho Seco, LaCrosse, and Humboldt Bay nuclear plants.



Will all of the site buildings and structures be demolished?
All of the present site buildings will be demolished. The switchyard, which belongs to ComEd, will remain. Additionally, the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) will be transferred to Exelon and remain on-site. There will be a security monitoring building on-site for the ISFSI.

Will buildings and structures be removed to below grade?
The buildings, structures, and components on-site will be removed to a depth of at least three feet below grade. Anything that remains on-site will be verified to be acceptable for unrestricted reuse in accordance with NRC requirements.

What will be used for fill?
Fill will be either locally provided spoils dirt or pulverized concrete from site building decommissioning.  All fill materials used will be verified to be acceptable for use as fill prior to completing the site remediation and turnover of the property back to Exelon.

Will any trees or vegetation be removed as part of decommissioning?
Most of the vegetation on the 256-acre site will not be disturbed. There are some areas of vegetation along the rail line and the dry fuel storage facility that will be removed. Some areas on the site will be replanted following the completion of decommissioning work and site release surveys. ComEd will manage the vegetation surrounding the switchyard through their Vegetation Management Department.

Will the cooling water intake and outtake pipes be removed from Lake Michigan?
The current plan is to cap and leave the pipes in place as this is expected to result in the least environmental disturbance to Lake Michigan and the shoreline. However, additional reviews are being done to confirm that this approach will meet these objectives.

Are groundwater and Lake Michigan tested?
Groundwater and Lake Michigan are monitored on a routine basis.  Radiological monitoring is performed as required by the Zion Station’s license issued by the NRC. Non-radiological monitoring is performed as required by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit issued by the IEPA. Results of monitoring are reported to each agency on a routine basis.

Has any environmental testing been done over the years and what were the results?
Routine and historic groundwater monitoring has been performed and results demonstrate that the site is in compliance with regulatory requirements.

What will happen to the water in the reactors and spent fuel pool?
The water used during the decommissioning project in each reactor cavity and the spent fuel pool will be purified using specialized treatment systems. Treated water will be sampled and verified to meet regulatory requirements of the IEPA-issued NPDES Permit and NRC regulations prior to any release.



How is spent nuclear fuel stored?
Spent fuel at commercial nuclear power plants is stored within a pool and/or in dry casks. In both cases the storage systems are designed to safely protect and cool the fuel elements.

Is dry cask storage in use at other nuclear power plant sites?
Dry storage is used at all plants that have undergone decommissioning and is being utilized at most operating plants in the country. Today there are 63 ISFSIs in the U.S. safely storing more than 1,400 canisters of used nuclear fuel.

Is hardened on-site storage being used at any of these sites?
No. These sites can only utilize licensed designs for dry storage that are built to the regulatory requirements of the NRC. Licensed dry storage facilities are very robust and provide passive cooling for the spent fuel. Some critics of nuclear power have proposed a modification of the conventional dry storage systems called Hardened On-site Storage (HOSS), which is not a licensed storage system. Advocates of HOSS recommend dispersing the dry storage casks over a large area to disperse the perceived risk and/or building massive protective structures over the casks. If implemented, these ideas would not increase public health or safety and could potentially compromise the passive cooling and shielding aspects inherent in the dry cask storage design.

Are the casks designed to withstand catastrophic events such as earthquakes and floods?
All licensed dry storage systems are designed to withstand earthquakes, tornados, fires, and floods.

Will the NRC oversee the fuel transfer process?
Yes. The NRC, through its Region III office in Illinois and headquarters in Washington D.C., reviews all aspects of design, construction, fuel loading, and ISFSI operation, and observes various aspects of the process.

Will the spent fuel in dry cask storage be transportable?
Yes. The fuel canisters will be licensed for transportation prior to the completion of the decommissioning project. Licensing of the canisters for transportation is being undertaken by ZionSolutionsÂ’ contractor, NAC International, through the NRC.

What is the size of the dry cask storage pad and how many casks will be stored there?
The pad will cover about a half acre. The entire dry fuel storage facility, including the pad and security barriers, will cover about two acres. There will be 61 casks storing used nuclear fuel and four other casks of similar size and shape that will store Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) waste. Like used fuel, this material cannot be transported off-site until Federal laws are changed to allow it.

What is the distance of the dry cask storage facility from the lake and will it be visible?
The facility will be about 1,300 feet west of Lake Michigan. Screening walls or vegetation will prevent it from being visible from the lake.

Will the dry cask storage be inside a building or bermed?
The dry casks will sit on top of a robust, seismically engineered concrete pad and not inside a building as the design requires passive air cooling of the casks. There may be berms or walls installed on the outside of the facility, if needed for screening.

What type of security will be in place at the dry cask storage facility?
The same types of security staff and devices that are in place now to protect the spent fuel in wet storage will remain to protect the fuel in dry storage. This includes state-of-the-art intrusion detection systems and round-the-clock security staff.

How long will the spent fuel remain at the Zion Station?
That is not known. ZionSolutions will turn the spent fuel facility over to Exelon at the end of decommissioning. The DOE will inform Exelon when it is prepared to pick up the fuel sometime in the future.



The spent fuel at the Zion Station will remain in a pool until it is transferred to dry cask storage in 2014. Could a catastrophic event affect the spent fuel pool similar to the pools at the Fukushima plant in Japan?
The spent fuel at the Zion Station has cooled to the point where all the fuel can be placed into dry storage. Some of the spent fuel at the Fukushima plant in Japan had been recently discharged from the reactor and if not cooled was subject to a chemical reaction at very high temperatures. Zion Station’s fuel is safe from that reaction even in the event of the loss of all active cooling.

Is the Spent Fuel Pool building designed to withstand an earthquake?
Yes. The spent fuel building and pool are designed to withstand earthquakes, tornados, and floods.  The pool itself is constructed with six-foot-thick, reinforced concrete walls and has a stainless steel liner.

Did the Fukushima plant have dry cask storage and was it affected by the earthquake and tsunami?
Fukushima had nine casks with spent fuel in dry storage and the fuel assemblies within these casks were not impacted by the earthquake or tsunami.



What type of waste will be removed from the plant?
Radiologically contaminated waste removed from the site will be Class A waste (most benign) and Class B and C wastes (moderate hazard).  A significant portion of the materials removed from the site will not have any radiological contamination present.

Where will the low-level radioactive waste be disposed?
All Class A waste will be disposed in a licensed radioactive disposal facility in Clive, Utah.  Class B and C wastes will be stored or disposed at an off-site licensed facility such as the site in Andrews County, Texas, or other authorized sites.

How will the low-level radioactive waste be shipped?
Initially, waste shipments will leave the site via truck. After rail renovations are performed on- and off-site, the majority of waste will be shipped via freight train. All shipments are subject to the requirements imposed by the DOT and will be compliant with these regulations.

What upgrades are planned for the existing railroad infrastructure at the site?
Refurbishment and inspection of the existing rail will be performed prior to use. ZionSolutions will also be placing additional rail on-site to allow greater shipment capacity.

How often will waste shipments occur?
During the peak portion of the project it is anticipated that one train, consisting of 30 freight cars, will be shipped approximately monthly.

Will there be any heavy haul shipments over local roads?
The project is currently planning for two heavy haul shipments during the duration of the decommissioning project. The first shipment will be in late 2011. The second heavy haul shipment will be in early 2013.

Will any plant materials be recycled?
Yes. Every effort is being made to recycle acceptable materials to provide an environmentally positive impact during the decommissioning. All materials are surveyed and verified free of radiological contamination prior to recycling. Any materials released for unrestricted use have a documentation package that provides evidence of the release survey and the results of the surveys. The types of material being recycled include water coolers, furniture, computer and electronic equipment, circuit boards, oil, refrigerators, spent toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, metal, glass, plastic, fabric, ferrous and non-ferrous materials, paper, and cardboard.

Are there regulatory standards for recycling material?
The Environmental Protection Agency has regulations for recycling hazardous wastes. The NRC has regulations regarding the release of materials for unrestricted use, which is adhered to in preparation for recycling materials from the site.

Will any material be disposed of locally?
Yes. Only materials that are free of radiological contamination are candidates for local disposal at licensed facilities. Examples of wastes being disposed of locally include personal waste from site activities, fiberglass and asbestos thermal insulation, and potentially concrete and metal.



What are the criteria for terminating a nuclear power plant’s NRC license?
Termination of the NRC license is achieved when site building demolition and remediation operations are complete and the remaining grounds have been surveyed to ensure they meet the NRC criteria for residual radioactivity levels. The specific activities and radiological criteria are defined in a License Termination Plan.

What is a License Termination Plan?
A License Termination Plan (LTP) is a licensee’s regulatory document that is submitted to the NRC.  The LTP provides details about the known radiological information about the site, the planned demolition and decommissioning tasks to be completed, and the final radiological surveys and data that will need to be obtained to achieve termination of the NRC license for the site.


Is there independent verification that the site meets the criteria for release?
Yes. As part of the NRC’s assessment and approval for license termination, they will coordinate ongoing independent verification surveys of the site with an organization such as the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).

Will the site be safe for any type of use?
Once buildings are removed and surveys are completed to meet the criteria of the LTP, the site will be available for unrestricted use except for the portion that houses the spent fuel.