Decommissioning of Fort Greely reactor to begin in 2022

July 2, 2021, 7:05AMRadwaste Solutions
Col. John Litz, of the USACE Baltimore District, examines the containment vessel door of the SM-1A deactivated nuclear power plant during a site visit in April 2019.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin decommissioning SM-1A, the mothballed nuclear power reactor at Fort Greely, in Alaska, beginning next year, a project that is expected to take approximately six years. The USACE said it expects to release a request for proposals soliciting contractor bids for the decommissioning and dismantlement project by late summer.

The USACE issued a final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for the SM-A1 decommissioning on June 28, beginning a 30-day wait period before the plan is officially finalized. A public review period was held between February 26 and March 28, and comments received during that time are addressed in the final documents.

The USACE intends to decommission the deactivated plant site to a level that will allow it to be released for unrestricted use.

First remote reactor: The construction of SM-1A began in 1958 and was completed in 1962, with first criticality achieved in March of that year. The design was based on the concept of the SM-1 reactor at Fort Belvoir, in Virginia, a prototype for stationary medium-power plants (SM). The “1A” moniker designates it as the first field plant of its type.

A 20.2-MWt pressurized water reactor, SM-1A was designed to be used as an “in-service” test facility for nuclear power in an arctic environment, with its primary mission being to supply electrical power and heating steam to Fort Greely. The secondary mission was to study the economics of operating a nuclear power plant in a remote area where conventional fuel costs are high and supply lines unusually long.

By 1968, however, the decision was made to shut the plant down because of the high operating costs and the projected cost of replacing SM-1A’s reactor pressure vessel. The final shutdown occurred in March 1972, after which the reactor’s high-enriched fuel was removed and the plant put in safe storage (SAFSTOR) condition, with some minor decommissioning work performed.

Preserving history: Because of SM-1A’s historical significance (the plant was found eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places), and because decommissioning will adversely affect the property, the USACE signed a memorandum of agreement with the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office and the City of Delta Junction outlining how the history of SM-1A and its unique artic mission will be preserved.

The USACE said that “when safe and feasible,” it will salvage historical items from the reactor facility. This includes informational safety plaques and an unopened time capsule. Also, within two years of awarding the decommissioning contract, the USACE will develop a detailed plan for the identification, curation, storage, and transportation of SM-1A’s historical items.

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