US utility Exelon’s Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey, which began operating in1969 and is scheduled to close on 17 September, is to be sold by to Holtec International, the two companies announced on 31 July. US Entergy Corp has also agreed to sell the subsidiaries that own the Pilgrim station in Massachusetts, and the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan to a Holtec International subsidiary for accelerated decommissioning.

Exelon has submitted a plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which envisaged putting most of the Oyster Creek plant in for final demolition in about 50 years. However, Holtec plans to complete decommissioning in eight years with "the highest standard of safety, quality and environmental stewardship”.

 The proposed deal would see Holtec take ownership of the 779 acres of land at Oyster Creek, its structures and the used nuclear fuel stored at the site. The sale is expected to close in the third quarter of 2019, subject to clearing all regulatory requirements. NRC has to approve the transfer of the plant's licence to Holtec.

NRC also requires Holtec to submit a revised decommissioning plan or Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, for review since it plans to accelerate the process. This will also provide opportunities for public review and comment. Approval will also be required by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Environmental groups have generally welcomed the decision.

The decommissioning fund of more than $980m, which had been set aside for Oyster Creek's closure, will be transferred to Holtec. It will cost approximately $1.4bn to shut down the plant, according to estimates, but the two companies said no additional funds would be needed from utility customers.

Holtec intends to contract Comprehensive Decommissioning International (CDI) to perform decontamination and decommissioning work at Oyster Creek. CDI, a joint venture between Holtec and SNC-Lavalin, was established earlier in July and aims to provide accelerated nuclear plant decommissioning, using innovative technologies to release plant sites (apart from on-site dry storage for used fuel) within eight years.

The fate of the used fuel remains unclear. There are currently 34 dry casks holding used fuel on site at Oyst, and it is estimated that another 40 casks will be needed to accommodate the remaining used fuel rods. Holtec has submitted a licence application to the NRC for an "autonomous consolidated interim storage facility" in New Mexico to accept used fuel from all US NPPs, including Oyster Creek. A permanent repository for used fuel is on hold after money ran out for the study of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

"Exelon considered many options for decommissioning Oyster Creek. Through a formal, competitive proposal process, we selected Holtec, a 30-year industry leader in used fuel management technologies," said Suzanne D'Ambrosio, Exelon spokeswoman. "Further, its joint venture with SNC-Lavalin gives us confidence in Holtec's ability to manage the station decommissioning efficiently and with the highest degree of safety, quality and precision."

With the closure of Oyster Creek, New Jersey will have three operating reactors –  PSEG Nuclear’s Salem 1&2 and Hope Creek. All have received licence extensions.

Entergy agrees to post-shutdown sales

Entergy’s Pilgrim and Palisades nuclear power plants will be sold after they have been closed and defuelled. The sales will include the transfer of the licences, used fuel, and nuclear decommissioning trusts (NDTs), as well as the site of the decommissioned Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant near Charlevoix, Michigan, where only the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) remains. The transactions are subject to NRC approval.

Provided regulatory approvals are granted, Holtec expects to begin decommissioning of Pilgrim in 2020 for completion in approximately eight years. Holtec and Entergy expect to file a licence transfer request with the NRC in the fourth quarter of this year for Pilgrim, with transaction closing targeted by the end of 2019. For Palisades, the licence transfer request would take place closer to its planned shutdown in early 2022, with transaction closing by the end of that year. In both cases, Holtec expects to move all the used fuel from the pools to dry cask storage within around three years of the plant shutdowns.

Palisades’ original licence was set to expire in 2011, but in 2007 NRC granted the plant a 20-year extension that would have allowed it to continue operating until 2031, despite objections of many environmental groups. In 2012, the federal government named Palisades one of the worst power plants for safety performance. Palisades also had repeated closures for a variety of maintenance issues.

Entergy said it remains committed to the safe and reliable operation of Pilgrim and Palisades until they close. Entergy is also seeking regulatory approvals to sell its subsidiary that owns the shutdown Vermont Yankee site by the end of this year. The sales are part of Entergy's strategy to exit the wholesale energy market and move to become an electric utility company.