When a nuclear plant retires, it stops producing electricity and enters into the decommissioning phase. Decommissioning involves removing and safely storing spent nuclear fuel, decontaminating the plant to reduce residual radioactivity, dismantling plant structures, removing contaminated materials to disposal facilities, and then releasing the property for other uses once the NRC has determined the site is safe.
According to Exelon, Oyster Creek will undergo a six-step decommissioning process. The typical decommissioning period for a nuclear power plant is about 60 years, so parts of the Oyster Creek plant structure could remain in place until 2075. (1.)
Since 2013, six commercial nuclear reactors in the United States have shut down, and an additional eight reactors have announced plans to retire by 2025. The retirement process for nuclear power plants involves disposing of nuclear waste and decontaminating equipment and facilities to reduce residual radioactivity, making it much more expensive and time consuming than retiring other power plants. As of 2017, a total of 10 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States have been successfully decommissioned, and another 20 U.S. nuclear reactors are currently in different stages of the decommissioning process.
To fully decommission a power plant, the facility must be deconstructed and the site returned to greenfield status (meaning the site is safe for reuse for purposes such as housing, farming, or industrial use). Nuclear reactor operators must safely dispose of any onsite nuclear waste and remove or contain any radioactive material, including nuclear fuel as well as irradiated equipment and buildings. (2.)