Coal Combustion Residuals
Coal ash and flue gas desulfurization material (scrubber by-product) continue to be the subject of additional federal and state rulemaking. These coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are the solid material left over from the use of coal in generating electricity and represent AEP’s single largest waste stream.
The U.S. EPA finalized revisions to environmental regulations in 2020 governing CCRs and the related Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) that set limits for associated wastewater discharges. AEP filed compliance plans for our affected plants in November 2020 under the CCR rules and in January 2021 under the ELG rules.
These plans include a combination of generating unit retirements or cessation of burning coal as a fuel, as previously announced by AEP, along with the closure of ash ponds, and upgrades to ash handling and FGD wastewater treatment systems. In addition, we will continue monitoring groundwater quality at all CCR sites included in the program and post new reports and data as required by the rule. We will also continue to proactively engage our neighbors and community leaders on questions and concerns about our CCR program.
Learn more about our CCR Rule Implementation plans and review our compliance reports on our CCR website.
CCRs have long been approved for use in concrete, wallboard and a wide variety of construction materials. While this benefits other industries, it also provides a source of environmental and financial benefits to us. By diverting CCRs to beneficial uses, we are reducing the need for waste disposal sites.
In 2020, we generated more than 2.9 million tons of CCRs and were able to beneficially use more than 1 million tons, or nearly 35% of the total produced. Beneficial use of CCRs avoided more than $14 million in disposal costs in 2020 and generated approximately $11 million in revenues.
Nuclear Waste Management
The U.S. Department of Energy oversees permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and historically has charged fees to plant owners for this disposal. However, following the government’s decision to cease development of the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, nuclear generators no longer have a place for permanent disposal.
Like the rest of the nuclear industry, we face a significant future financial commitment to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. We need a national solution for the long-term disposal of spent nuclear fuel, which should be part of a national energy plan.
The uncertainty associated with long-term storage places the burden of interim storage on each nuclear facility. We are addressing this issue through dry cask storage on the assumption that a workable off-site solution will not exist before the current operating licenses for both Donald C. Cook nuclear units expire in 2034 and 2037.
In 2012, the Cook Plant in Bridgman, Michigan, began a program of loading spent nuclear fuel into dry casks. The latest loading campaign took place in 2018, bringing the total to 44 dry casks that have been loaded into storage. The next loading campaign will occur in 2021. The casks can withstand tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, sabotage, missiles, aircraft and temperature extremes. Licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the casks meet all applicable security, environmental and radiological requirements.
The current cask storage facility can store 94 casks, or 3,008 spent nuclear fuel assemblies. This would support the operation of both units through their current operating licenses. Expansion of the pad is possible to facilitate removal of all fuel assemblies from the plant’s spent fuel pool and full decommissioning of both units.
Nuclear plant operators are required to maintain a plant-decommissioning trust fund to safely decommission and decontaminate the plant upon closure. At the end of 2020, the trust fund balance for the Cook Plant was approximately $3 billion.