Short of legislative lifeline, Exelon’s Dresden, Byron nuclear stations shutting down in fall

Exelon will shut down its Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants in Illinois within weeks.

The utility filed its post-shutdown decommissioning plan with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week. The plan details long-term site restoration timelines for both generating stations in the Chicago area.

Exelon announced the impending shutdowns last year, with the 2.3-GW, two-unit Bryon power plant shutting down in September. The two-unit Dresden Generating Station (pictured above) will also be retired, ending a history of carbon-free electricity since the late 1950s. The company is also still hoping  for a legislative lifeline to keep the plants economically viable.

Exelon Generation is issuing job reduction notifications to most of the nearly 1,500 employees working at the sites. That number will drop to only a few dozen employees over the next 10 years, according to the report.

Exelon and other entities are still working with Illinois state policymakers to try and craft legislation preserving all four units under a clean-energy jobs effort. Nuclear currently supplies 20 percent of the U.S. electricity resource mix and more than half of its carbon-free generation.

The state also is dealing with a bribery scandal related to a previous legislative effort on subsidizing nuclear plants. Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy Corp. agreed to a deferred prosecution deal and is paying a $230 million fine related to the probe.

“With no signs of a breakthrough on clean energy legislation in Springfield, we have no choice but to take these final steps in preparation for shutting down the plants,” said Exelon Generation Chief Nuclear Officer Dave Rhoades. “We will never stop fighting for policies to preserve Illinois’ nuclear fleet, knowing that the minute these plants close our customers will experience dirtier air and higher energy costs. But with time running out, we must plan for the future and do everything we can to prepare our employees and the communities they serve for what lies ahead.”

Byron Nuclear Generating Station was commissioned in the 1980s. It generates thermal power via Westinghouse pressurized water reactors, while Dresden utilizes GE boiling water reactors.

As part of the decommissioning process, Exelon Generation has up to 60 years to restore Byron and Dresden, which includes transporting the stations’ used fuel to long-term storage, decontaminating and removing plant components and razing the remaining buildings. 

PJM, the regional grid operator, has confirmed that both plants can retire without putting overall grid reliability at risk.

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