Dispute halts decommissioning of Fort Greely’s nuclear power plant

a nuclear reactor
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff and Army officials assemble outside Fort Greely’s SM-1A nuclear reactor during a 2021 site visit. (From USACE)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to start next month on the decommissioning and dismantling of a long-mothballed 1960s-era nuclear power plant on Fort Greely. The project has been on hold for the last year due to a protest filed by an unsuccessful project bidder.

a nuclear reactor
The SM-1A is surrounded by buildings that house facilities like barracks, maintenance shops and offices that were heated by the power plant. (From U.S. Army)

The Corps of Engineers has been studying Fort Greely’s defunct SM-1A nuclear power plant for the past 15 years now, especially over the past five years. Last summer, project manager Brenda Barber says the agency took a major step toward removal of what remains of the 60-year-old facility by awarding a contract to complete decommissioning, dismantling and removing what’s left of it.

“So we did issue the contract in July of ’22, last year,” Barber said.

But Barber says no work has happened yet on the $103 million contract, because the federal Government Accountability Office is dealing with a protest filed by the one of the companies which bid on the project.

According to online GAO records, the contract was awarded to South Carolina-based Westinghouse Government Services. It includes removal of remaining reactor components and other materials and site restoration.

a nuclear reactor
Much of the building materials and other debris left over from initial remediation work at the SM-1A was stored underneath Building 606, where the reactor and electrical and steam-heat systems were located. (From USACE)

The online records say GAO reviewed the protest filed by Louisiana-based Aptim-Amentum Alaska Decommissioning, also known as A3D.

“We had a ruling from GAO that upheld a portion of that protest finding,” Barber said.

According to the GAO website, the agency dismissed two of three protests filed by A3D, but partially upheld a third that alleges the Corps made mistakes evaluating the Westinghouse proposal, and “failed to engage in adequate, equal discussions” with A3D.

“And so the team is taking corrective action,” Barber said, “and we anticipate that that will be resolved by the 14th of August.”

Barber says federal laws and regulations strictly limit release of information about contractor disputes, so she couldn’t even confirm the name of the company that filed the protest.

“I can’t comment on that,” she said.

a woman
Project manager Brenda Barber talks about the SM-1A decommissioning and dismantlement project during a 2021 public meeting in Fairbanks. (From USACE)

Meanwhile, Barber says the Corps is preparing to hire about a half-dozen people who’ll be assigned to Fort Greely to help oversee the project. And she says Doyon Utilities, which operates the post’s diesel-fired heat and power plant, has moved out of the north side of the SM-1A building, where the remaining inert nuclear components are stored underground.

“So Doyon completed that work in April of this year,” she said, “and we did our final inspection in May.”

Barber says if work begins next month and all goes well, the Corps hopes to complete the long and complex process of decommissioning and dismantling Alaska’s first and so far only nuclear power plant by 2030.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

Previous articleAs record heat bakes the Lower 48, Anchorage contends with its coolest summer in years
Next articleWhat we know about Travis King, the U.S. soldier who crossed into North Korea