Shipping Heavy Loads Part of Decommissioning a Nuclear Plant

During this dismantlement phase of decommissioning SONGS, more than 5,000 railcars will leave the site bound for destinations outside of California. They will carry all manner of material, from crushed concrete to cut steel.

But a few loads will need to go out on their own due to the size and weight of the component. One such load—the Unit 2 reactor pressure vessel head—has left the site (exact schedules and routes are not publicly disclosed) bound for the EnergySolutions disposal facility in Clive, Utah.

Before shipping, all the necessary permits are secured and notifications are made to the appropriate state and federal agencies, if necessary. Appropriate measures are taken to minimize any potential traffic impacts during these shipments.

U2 RX head 1
The Unit 2 reactor head, weighing in at approximately 77 tons.

Unit 2 Reactor Pressure Vessel Head

Unit 3 Reactor Assembly
The reactor head assembly with the reactor head visible on the bottom. This photo was taken in Unit 3.

The Unit 2 reactor pressure vessel head weighs about 77 tons and spans nearly 17 feet. It was a key part of the reactor vessel, not unlike a lid used to cover a pot of water. The steel cap will be shipped over the highways on a special heavy haul transporter.

When the plant was operating, the nuclear fuel within the reactor vessel heated water that was channeled to the steam generators. The reactor pressure vessel head was bolted to the top of the vessel and could be removed for refueling the reactor or maintenance.

The radioactivity level for the reactor head is classified as low and really not much different than the hundreds of low-level radioactive waste shipments that have left SONGS during the past year. What makes this shipment unique is its size and weight.

The Unit 3 RPV head will also make its way to Clive in the next couple of weeks.

Keeping it Safe

Safety is key when transporting large loads from Point A to Point B. EnergySolutions, a SONGS decommissioning contractor, has decades of experience in shipping such loads across the country.

EnergySolutions oversaw the safe shipment of the Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel from SONGS to Clive in 2020. That was a 770-ton load, 10 times the weight of the RPV head.

“Safety is our top priority on every project, particularly when it comes to the safe transportation of nuclear materials”, stated Jeff Richardson, COO for EnergySolutions. “Comprehensive safety programs are implemented at all our facilities and worksites to ensure safety and protection for all onsite personnel, the general public, and the environment,” added Richardson.

The two reactor pressure vessel heads won’t be the last of the heavy loads leaving SONGS over the next several years. Other large components include:

  • Steam generators (4 total), though these will be segmented to a degree
  • Reactor Coolant Pumps (8 total), shipped whole without the motors
  • Reactor Coolant Pump motors (8 total)
  • Unit 2 and 3 Pressurizers (2 total)

Since dismantlement activities began in 2020, more than 2,100 shipments have been safely completed via rail and truck from SONGS.

The Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel makes its way to the Clive, Utah facility. This 770-ton load required special transport via rail and truck.

(Posted July 21, 2022; Updated July 27, 2022)