The Trojan reactor vessel and internals removal project


The Trojan Reactor Vessel and Internals Removal Project

Ther reactor makes its way up the Columbiz River. (photo: Craig Cunningham)

Going through the locks at the John Day Dam. (photo: Craig Cunningham)

Workers begin removing impact limiters and preparing the reactor for burial. (photo: Craig Cunningham)

The reactor just before departure. (photo:Tim Parks)

by Jay Holtzman

(left to right) Steve Quennoz, vice president, Nuclear and Thermal Operations; Steve Nichols, manager, Decommissioning Projects; and Michael B. Lackey, P.E., General Manager, Engineering and Decommissioning on the scene as the reactor is prepared for shipment. (photo: Tim Parks)

Despite hardware hurdles and a host of regulatory unknowns, this project team believed intact removal of a full-size nuclear reactor was a better way, and they proved it!

IT WAS AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT from the start: to remove, transport, and dispose of a full-sized commercial nuclear reactor, complete with it internal structures and laden with radioactivity from 19 years in service, in one piece that when packaged for shipment would weigh more than two million pounds—1,000 tons!

This approach offered many advantages over the conventional method of segmenting the reactor and its “internals” for up to 88 separate shipments and disposal. Removing the reactor vessel as a whole would expose workers and the public to a fraction of the potential radiation. It would result in less than half the radioactive waste, all of that at a low level of radioactivity. It would realize some $15 million in savings.

There was just one major obstacle facing the Trojan Reactor Vessel and Internals Removal (RVAIR) Project team: It had never been done before. Many doubted it could be done.

There were a host of smaller problems, too. Several major pieces of equipment that would be needed simply didn't exist. And there were few regulations in place to guide the process. At the outset, it was anybody's guess whether regulators from two states and a confusing welter of federal agencies and departments would agree to allow the plan to proceed.


Jay Holtzman is a writer, editor, and communications consultant who writes on a broad variety of business topics. He has been published in more than 45 business journals and consumer publications through the United States and has twice been the recipient of the prestigious Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press.

But the skills, talent, experience, and dedication of dozens of people, combined with the application of professional project management principles and practices, not only solved the myriad problems and brought the project to a successful conclusion, they also earned the Portland General Electric Company and its Trojan Reactor Vessel and Internals Removal Project top honors in the 2000 PMI® International Project of the Year competition.

The Project

The project spanned nearly three and a half years, involved dozens of Portland GE employees plus more than 10 subcontractor firms, broke substantial new regulatory ground, and cost $21.9 million; $19 million less than the estimated cost of conventional disposal and $4.2 million under budget.

Here's what was involved.

Preparation and Removal of the Reactor Vessel from the Containment Building. The reactor vessel was more than 42 feet long, with a diameter of more than 17 feet, and carbon steel walls 5–10 inches thick. In addition, it contained stainless steel internal structures that directed water flow through the reactor while it was in operation. In preparation for transport, all attachments to the reactor were severed and closures welded over the openings. It was drained and then filled with 200 tons of low-density cellular concrete. Finally, steel shielding was installed to reduce radiation levels, and the exterior was decontaminated and coated as necessary.

To remove it, a large, structural section of the containment building was cut away and a large roll-up door was installed to prevent unmonitored release of radiation. Heavy-lift systems had to be designed and built to lift the reactor vessel from the containment building and onto a rail system from which it was loaded onto a special transporter extensively customized for the task.

Transport of the Reactor Vessel Package on the Trojan Site. A special tie-down system was developed to mount the Reactor Vessel Package (RVP) on the transporter in accordance with the applicable regulations for truck transport of radioactive materials. The RVP and transporter were moved by prime mover just a quarter mile to a slip on the Columbia River, where the transporter and RVP were loaded onto a custom-built barge for its journey upriver to the disposal site.

Barge Transport 270 Miles Up the Columbia River to the Port of Benton, Wash. The barge was accompanied by two tugboats, one a backup, and escorted by U.S. Coast Guard vessels that maintained a safety exclusion zone around the barge. River transport had to be timed for a period of adequate water flow in the river and at a time when the U.S. Navy was not using the area.

Transport from the Port of Benton to the U.S. Ecology Low-Level Radioactive Waste Facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. This operation mirrored the loading procedure at the Trojan site. The transporter and RVP was moved off the barge onto the landing by prime mover, then moved 22 miles by road—at a maximum speed of five miles per hour—to the disposal site. Escorts controlled traffic in the vicinity of the transporter throughout the journey and railroad traffic was also halted during transit. A few days after arrival at Hanford, the reactor package was placed in a 45-foot-deep trench and covered with earth.

The Project Team

A 10-person core team, led by project manager Steven B. Nichols, managed the project in accordance with the Trojan Decommissioning Project Management Standards, developed to guide the Trojan decommissioning effort, of which the RVAIR Project was a major part. The standards were within the framework of company policies and procedures and were based on definitions and principles set forth in the Project Management Institute's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

Technical Expertise + Experience + Project Management Training = Success

Members of the award winning RVAIR Project team were chosen for their technical competencies and experience working with the Trojan nuclear reactor. For the most part, they were mechanical engineers, nuclear engineers, civil and electrical engineers; they were not chosen for their project management expertise—when the project began, RVAIR team members were long on expertise in their fields but short on project management techniques.

“The people on the project team have technical backgrounds. We worked here at the plant while it was operating,” said Charles R. White, PMP, planner/scheduler on the RVAIR team. “One of the reasons this team was chosen was the members’ experience doing modifications at the plant.”

Project manager Steve Nichols, White, and others were part of the Trojan Outage Management organization. In a nuclear plant, fuel outages are planned shutdowns, intense periods of activity, “like a major project squeezed into a short period of time,” Nichols said. The Outage Management organization was responsible for planning and execution of outages and all the work activities associated with them.

Clearly, team members had practical project management experience. But they were short on formal project management training.

“We recognized early on that we needed some help on our project management,” White said. “We knew we were going from an operating environment basically to a project environment. An operating plant has a lot of maintenance activities and some modification activities that are all focused around the operation. We were moving to an environment where you had a lot of individual projects, and they weren't focused on operations.”

The team had gained extensive experience in an earlier plant decommissioning project, the removal of four 450-ton steam generators and a pressurizer.

“We did the large component removal project using some project management principles. But when we finished we knew we could do better,” White adds.

Before tackling the larger and far more complex reactor vessel removal, the team identified the need for more project management expertise.

“I was lucky enough to be involved with the Project Management Institute [through the Portland, Ore., USA, chapter] when we decided to institute some training,” White said. “We specified that we wanted our training based on PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). That was one of the criteria we used in selecting the firm that did our training.”

A project management consulting firm in the Portland area provided training. Everyone in the 10-person core group of the project team went through the training. Today, all 10 members of the core team belong to the PMI® Portland Chapter. Although at the moment White is the only team member with Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, several others are studying for the PMP examination.

To further enhance the project management environment in which the project, and plant decommissioning in general, would proceed, a formal standard was created.

“We put together a small book on “How to Manage Your Project,” which we based on the PMBOK® Guide,” White said. “We use it as our guide on how we are going to do our projects. What we have found is that for projects like the reactor vessel removal project we based a lot of what we have in our standards on what's in the PMBOK® Guide. We've found that the larger the project, the more you need to use the principles that PMI sets forth.”

Members of the team, both company employees and subcontractors, were chosen because of their technical background and experience. Nichols and the majority of team members had worked together on an earlier phase of Trojan decommissioning. The Large Component Removal Project, which involved removal and disposal of four steam generators, each weighing 450 tons—less than half of what the reactor weighed—and a 125-ton pressurizer, provided valuable experience and the impetus for the innovative approach that distinguished the RVAIR Project.

“When we finished that project, we looked back and felt that to a large degree it could be the basis for doing the reactor vessel project in a different way,” Nichols said. “We did some studies and when we looked at worker safety, public safety, transportation safety, burial volume, cost—any of these parameters—we saw that taking the reactor out as one piece was a much better solution than the alternative.”

From very early in the project, it was clear that project integration management would be vital to project success. Although the team felt that, from a hardware perspective, intact removal of the reactor vessel and its internals was practical, several pieces of critical equipment-—notably, heavy-lift equipment, tie-down systems and the barge—did not exist.

The regulatory picture was less clear. Since intact removal of a full-sized commercial nuclear reactor had never been tried (much smaller test reactors had been handled in this manner), there were no regulations governing the procedure. But there were more than a dozen regulatory agencies and regulations at both state and federal levels with some measure of jurisdiction.

That meant several complex processes—design development, component fabrication, and regulatory reviews—all had to run and be managed concurrently. The team determined that the regulatory challenges were probably the toughest they faced.

“You had to make sure from the beginning that when you got finished, the product you had could be licensed and transported,” Nichols said. “So you had to put together all the technical details of how you were going to package the reactor vessel and make a radioactive container that would meet the intent of 10CFR71 [Code of Federal Regulations], the regulation applicable to radioactive waste containers.”

Because of the unique nature of the reactor package, the team applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a waiver or exemption from provisions governing performance in hypothetical accident conditions. The team supported the application with a risk analysis study showing that, according to the project plan, the probability of an accident was literally less than one in a million. The NRC commissioners accepted the argument that a risk-based evaluation was an acceptable means to process an exemption or waiver, clearing the way for NRC staff to ultimately grant the exemption.

Project Management Linchpins

The team's success with the NRC specifically, and in the regulatory arena generally, highlights the importance of two linchpins of the project management techniques used in this project: risk management and communications management.

The team first identified risks that were likely to affect the project, assessed them, then developed contingency plans to deal with them. This activity continued throughout the project. The project manager issued a monthly report that included monitoring of both previously identified and new risks and the strategies that were developed to mitigate their impact.

“We did a lot of risk management,” Nichols said. “We always looked at a situation to see what can we do, what will it mean to us, what are the alternatives, and, if we go down that path and this happens, what do we do? That really defined much of how we approached a lot of our activities.”

This planning paid off. Throughout the long and complex project there really were no surprises. “To a large degree, I don't think we had to rely on a lot of the contingencies we made. When we faced a particular situation, it really wasn't a surprise because we recognized up front that it was a probability to start with,” Nichols said.

Due to the nature of the project, one of its most demanding aspects was that it did not allow for any trial and error—you had to do things right the first time. “We believe in trial runs and we do a lot of that, but in these cases you couldn't do it. It wasn't until you did a given thing that you had the opportunity to make sure that it worked,” Nichols said.

This was true for all the major equipment designed and built to move the reactor. Nichols tells why:

“You had to do a lot of research and a lot of design work up front to make sure the equipment would fit the first time when we went to use it. That meant doing everything possible to assure that the heavy-lift equipment would match up properly to the reactor, that all the stresses and deflections of moving something approaching 1,000 tons had been accounted for, that all the hardware built to package the reactor and seat it on the transporter would fit, that the reactor package and transporter would seat properly on the custom-built barge.

Due to the nature of the project, one of its most demanding aspects was that it did not allow for any trial and error—you had to do things right the first time.

“You had to design so that you could account for any irregularities that might exist—nozzles that were not quite where they were expected or dimensions that were slightly off—and be ready to address those issues on the spot. You had to make sure that what you built was the best you could build it. To do all those things was a tremendous engineering challenge.”

Just as compelling as the engineering challenges were the challenges of team building. “The teamwork on this project was just tremendous,” said Charles R. White, PMP, RVAIR team planner/scheduler. “We had a lot of people involved in this effort, a lot of groups in the company and a lot of contractors, and we really worked well as a team. It really impressed me how everyone worked so well together. There were no turf fights. We all had a common goal and a lot of personal accountability.”

Such success stemmed from solid communication and the application of some fundamental principles.

“Yes, it was thorough communication and a respect for others,” Nichols said. “We chose to utilize the philosophy that everybody is part of the team. We treated contractors, PGE employees, anyone on the team, equally and the same as a team member. If a team member had a problem, it was our problem, not their problem. We chose to resolve that as a team and work to a solution that was best for the project even though it may have hurt one group or another.”

Ongoing, open communication extended well beyond the team, too. Regulators, legislators, company employees, and the general public were kept well informed of plans and intentions. Nichols cites the state of Oregon, local communities, and congressional members as having helped support the team activity; for example, in urging the NRC to review the Trojan application for waiver. And Portland General Electric wrote and executed an extensive public relations plan that helped support the entire decommissioning effort with the news media and public.

Keeping the focus on the project rather than on individual concerns was also key. “You always had to keep the project focused and in doing that it really facilitated open and honest communication between the team members,” Nichols said. “You have to develop respect for each team member and make sure they understand that when you question what they are doing it isn't because you don't trust them, it's because you want to make sure that when it comes time to implement, everything is going to go right.”

THAT THE PROJECT DID GO RIGHT, from start to finish and in every aspect, from safety to scheduling and budget, is a testament to how skilled and dedicated professionals using professional project management disciplines can break new ground and meet the challenges posed by the increasingly sophisticated and double-edged technology that will certainly characterize this new century.

For most, if not all, of the RVAIR team members, this project was among the toughest they've ever tackled.

From Grassroots to Global – The Process

The Trojan Reactor Vessel and Internals Removal (RVAIR) Project is the latest in a series of world-class projects to be recognized as International Projects of the Year in the annual competition sponsored by the Project Management Institute.

Portland (Oregon, USA) General Electric did the project as part of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant decommissioning. The PMI® Portland Chapter sponsored the project's entry into the competition (only one project can be submitted from any local chapter in a given year). Michael B. Lackey, general manager, engineering and decommissioning; and Steven B. Nichols, project manager, accepted the PMI International Project of the Year Award on behalf of Portland GE at PMI's Annual Seminars & Symposium, held last September in Houston, Texas, USA.

By winning the 2000 competition, the Trojan RVAIR Project joins an elite group. Past International Project of the Year winners include the Qatargas Liquefied Natural Gas Plant (1999), the Mars Pathfinder (1998), the Kodak Advantix Advanced Photo System (1997), the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station Unit 2 (1990), and the Delta Airlines Terminal 5 Expansion at Los Angeles Airport (1989).

The Project of the Year competition was established in 1989 to select, recognize, and honor both the project and project team for superior performance and execution of exemplary project management.

Entries are evaluated against several criteria. They must show that the project:

img Met or exceeded the owner/client's needs

img Improved on original budget and schedule goals

img Demonstrated originality in applying project management techniques

img Contained complexity that required special management team action and performance

img Advanced the project management profession through effective application of the nine PMBOK® Guide knowledge areas.

To be chosen as the PMI International Project of the Year, entries go through a three-step process, which begins at the preliminary level competition and then moves through semi-final and final rounds of judging. “At each level, only those projects that are deemed by the evaluators as the best can move on to the next tier of competition,” said Sandra L. Ardis, PMI marketing manager.

Different sets of judges evaluate each round. Judges in both rounds are PMI members who have been accepted by PMI's Awards Program Member Advisory Group as individuals who “have successfully demonstrated significant and sustained expertise in project management.” In the final round, judges choose one winner from the three top-tier entries to determine the International Project of the Year.

The RVAIR Project had already attracted attention in the nuclear industry before it was entered in the competition. Charles R. White, PMP, RVAIR team planner/scheduler, tells why: “Even people outside the industry began to be aware of the project because we were working with a nuclear reactor. Team members had made a lot of presentations to various groups to explain what we were doing and what we were going to do. Then Steve Nichols, our project manager, did a presentation at one of the PMI Portland Chapter's dinner meetings. Some of the members suggested the project be entered. We thought about it for a while and decided, why not.”

White, who was chapter president at the time, recused himself from involvement in the competition from the chapter standpoint. But another board member volunteered to organize the contest and assemble a panel of judges according to the rules set out by PMI.

White and another team member assembled and wrote the substantial documentation that accompanied the entry. But White points out that the teamwork that characterized the project itself continued through preparing the submission. “Two of us did a lot of the writing and formatting, but we used a lot of information that was prepared by the members of the team,” he said. “At the end of a major project you put together a historical document to show what you did, what your problems were, and what lessons were learned. We relied on this document quite a bit. We also used a lot of what we had produced throughout the life of the project as well as materials used for presentation and papers that members of the group had done. Although two of us assembled it, it was a document that was prepared by the whole team.”

While the Trojan Reactor Vessel and Internals Removal Project won PMI's 2000 International Project of the Year Award, special mention should be made of the two other finalists for 2000: the Second Generation Sucralose Plant Project by the Morrison Knudsen Corp., sponsored by the PMI Northeast Ohio Chapter; and the Stave Falls Power Plant Replacement Project by the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, sponsored by the PMI West Coast, British Columbia Chapter.

“The steam generator project was challenging and we carried forth a lot of what we learned out of that project,” Nichols said. “But this was still very challenging from all aspects: from the technical aspects, the regulatory aspects, all the design stuff, to have it designed, fabricated, installed and used, and to do all the field activities. To do this project from start to finish was a tremendous challenge.”

Additional to achieving its original goals, the Portland GE RVAIR Project has influenced the way regulators deal with disposal issues having to do with nuclear reactors. According to Nichols, the NRC is in the process of changing its regulations to address the licensing of large nuclear components such as the Trojan reactor vessel.

The Reactor Vessel and Internals Removal Project was unique in many ways. Other nuclear plants now being decommissioned don't have the same opportunities, in terms of the location that made water transport feasible or in terms of proximity to a suitable radioactive waste facility, as did this project. So it may be a long time, if ever, until intact disposal of a commercial nuclear reactor is attempted again. ■

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

January 2001 PM Network



Related Content