Waste and Chemical Management
We manage many types of waste that result from the process of generating electricity, operating office buildings, and repairing and replacing equipment. We continue to reduce and divert waste from landfills through beneficial reuse or recycling.
The amount of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-containing equipment used across the company continues to decline. PCBs, which are known to have adverse health effects, have not been used in new electrical equipment in the U.S. for more than 36 years but are present in some of our older transformers and other pieces of electric equipment. We removed and recycled approximately 2,885 pieces of electrical equipment in 2015; approximately 5.7 percent of these items were found to contain PCBs greater than 500 parts per million (ppm).
The EPA is developing a proposed draft rule that would potentially require the phase out of certain PCB-containing equipment (potentially including equipment containing 50 ppm PCB or greater). AEP operates hundreds of thousands of pieces of electrical equipment that could be affected by the draft rule. Current regulations require that if you do not know the PCB content of certain types of equipment, you must assume that they contain 50 ppm of PCBs or greater. Due to the types, locations and quantities of the potentially affected equipment throughout the AEP system, the expense of identifying, sampling and potentially replacing all of this equipment, if required, would be significant.
We had slightly more than 1,400 transmission and distribution equipment oil spills in 2015, similar to the number of spills in 2014. Two of the spills contained greater than 500 ppm PCBs in both 2014 and 2015. Most spills are caused by storms and vehicle accidents that damage the equipment.
During 2015, the waste we recycled included approximately 646,000 gallons of oil, 767,000 pounds of paper and mixed office waste, 60 million pounds of scrap metal, 31,000 light bulbs, 142,000 pounds of batteries and more than 196,000 pounds of electronic equipment, such as computers and phones, preventing disposal in landfills. These numbers are not all-inclusive but are considered good estimates of waste management across AEP and indicate progress in reducing waste.
Nuclear Waste Management
The Department of Energy oversees permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and historically has charged fees to plant owners for this disposal. However, the government has stopped developing the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, leaving generators with no place for permanent disposal.
Indiana Michigan Power owns and operates the two-unit Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan, which generates more than 2,000 MW of electricity. 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 has placed the burden of interim storage on each nuclear facility. AEP is addressing this issue on the assumption that a workable offsite solution will not exist before the operating licenses for both Cook units expire two decades from now.
In 2012, the Cook Plant began a program of loading spent nuclear fuel into dry casks (32 spent nuclear fuel assemblies contained within each dry cask). Without removal of the used-fuel assemblies, the spent fuel pool would have reached capacity in 2014, forcing shutdown of one or both Cook units.
In 2015, the Cook Plant loaded 16 additional dry casks, making it one of the largest dry cask-loading campaign conducted for an operating nuclear power plant in the U.S. Since the program began, there has been a total of 28 dry casks loaded into storage. The third dry cask loading is expected to occur in 2018. The current cask storage facility is designed to store 94 casks for a total of 3,008 spent nuclear fuel assemblies. This would support the operation of both units through the current operating license dates of 2035 for Unit 1 and 2038 for Unit 2. The pad could be expanded 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 2015, the trust fund balance for the Cook Plant was approximately $1.8 billion.