FAIRBANKS — An Army Corp of Engineers team is planning the formal decommissioning of the only nuclear power plant ever built in Alaska, Fort Greely’s SM-1A plant.
The SM-1A plant provided steam and electricity to the Army post near Delta Junction off and on between 1962 and 1972. It was one of eight experimental projects to test the use of small nuclear power plants at remote installations.
It’s expected to take about 10 years to plan, contract out and complete the SM-1A cleanup, according to a Baltimore-based team from the Army Corps of Engineers that came to Fort Greely for meetings last month.
One particular challenge of decommissioning SM-1A 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.
When SM-1A 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.
The Army chose this temporary method of mothballing the facility out of hope that within a relatively short amount of time significant quantities of radioactive waste would decay to a safer nonradioactive state, according to an Army Corps of Engineers website about the SM-1A at bit.ly/2G7TjVH.
Later studies showed that the volume of radioactive waste wasn’t decreasing as expected and that a more hands-on approach was needed to clean up the plant. The increasing costs of nuclear waste disposal also motivated the Army to begin cleaning up the site.
Read more at Nuclear power plant to be decommissioned