Dismantling of deactivated Fort Greely nuclear power plant to resume

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 decommissioning of an old nuclear power plant at Fort Greely can move forward now that the federal agency overseeing the project has resolved a contract dispute that delayed work for more than a year.

Work on the final phase of decommissioning and dismantling the long-mothballed SM-1A heat and power plant has been on hold since late last year, when a company that was competing for the contract began filing protests over how the Army Corps of Engineers handled the bid proposals.

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The SM-1A is located in the center of Fort Greely, bounded by Allen Army Airfield to the north and the missile-defense base to the south. The post is about five miles south of Delta Junction, and about 105 miles south of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway. (From U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Corps awarded a $103 million contract to South Carolina-based Westinghouse Government Services last August. But soon thereafter officials for a competing firm, Louisiana-based Aptim-Amentum Alaska Decommissioning, appealed the decision to the federal General Accounting Office. The GAO partially upheld the protest and directed the Corps of Engineers to reopen discussions with the competing companies and re-evaluate their bid proposals.

“We ultimately made the decision to reverse the award, based on our re-evaluation of proposals,” says Brenda Barber, the Corps’ project manager. “So the award is going to Aptim-Amentum Alaska Decommissioning, and the Westinghouse Government Services contract has been terminated.”

Barber said Wednesday that when the Corps allowed the companies competing for the contract to submit final proposals, Aptim-Amentum Alaska Decommissioning — also known as A3D — lowered its bid for the contract to $95.3 million.

“And it was deemed to be fair (and) reasonable, and resulted in an award to them,” she said.

That’s about all Barber could say about the dispute. She referred most questions to the GAO.

“We don’t typically comment too much on the protests,” she said, “just because of the sensitivity.”

According to online information about the dispute on a GAO webpage, A3D accused the Corps of misevaluating the competing Westinghouse proposal. A3D also accused the Corps of failing to take into account the lack of a so-called key personnel-retention plan in the Westinghouse proposal.

Many of the nuclear-power components of the old SM-1A are encased in concrete in the building that still stands at Fort Greely. (U.S. Army photo)

Barber said the year-long, back-and-forth process of reviewing and re-evaluating the proposals means the completion date of the project also will be pushed back by a year.

“So we’re looking at 2029, at this point,” she said, adding that it’ll take a while for A3D to begin work on the facility.

“We’re finalizing some startup-related issues with respect to the contract now,” she said, “and we’re hopeful that work on the site — physical work on the site — is probably still six to eight months out.”

During that time, Barber says the Corps’s team assigned to the project will be spending time at Fort Greely and the 61-year-old facility on the post to develop detailed engineering and project-timeframe plans.

The SM-1A’s highly enriched uranium dioxide fuel and most highly radioactive components of the facility were removed after it was shut down in 1972. Remaining materials have been entombed in concrete or safely stored onsite. Much of that will be removed as part of the contract with A3D.

The facility generated up to 2 megawatts of electricity and up to 20.2 megawatts of thermal energy for a central steam-heat system.

Barber says when the the remaining work is completed, the SM-1A, like two other prototype military nuclear power plants developed during the Cold War, will finally all be decommissioned and dismantled.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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