What's next for Duane Arnold nuclear plant?

Derecho damage prompts nuclear plant not to restart

The Cedar River flows past the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Palo on Friday, July 20. 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-K
The Cedar River flows past the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Palo on Friday, July 20. 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Duane Arnold Energy Center near Palo did not restart after the Aug. 10 derecho caused “extensive” damage to its cooling towers. As decommissioning work begins, here’s what we know:

How many people did Duane Arnold employ?

As of 2018 when decommissioning was announced, about 500 worked at the facility. Now, about 400 workers still are at Duane Arnold, NextEra Energy spokesman Peter Robbins said.

Why is it being decommissioned?

Dean Curtland, plant director, told The Gazette in 2018 Iowa’s changing energy landscape has overshadowed and outpriced Duane Arnold.

Closing the facility could save NextEra about $300 million over 21 years, with cost savings coming as early as 2021. That translates to about $42 per residential customer.

What impact did the derecho have on its decommissioning?

NextEra Energy already was planning on decommissioning Duane Arnold this year.

When the derecho caused “extensive” damage to the facility’s cooling towers, NextEra opted against restarting the plant so close to the Oct. 30 decommissioning date.

Replacing the cooling towers with fewer than three months until decommissioning was “not feasible,” Robbins said last month.

What is happening now that the plant is shut down?

The decommissioning process is underway as employees remove nuclear material from the facility.

Click the image for a closer look:


“There’s the nuclear fuel that was in the reactor and then nuclear fuel that was in a pool — what is called the spent fuel pool,” Robbins said. “We’ve been moving a lot of the fuel out of that pool and putting it in a storage facility on the site.”

How long will the decommissioning process take?

The process involves several steps, starting with removing nuclear material from the site.

After nuclear material goes into the spent fuel pool, it can go into dry storage.

After all fuel is removed, officials have 60 years to decommission the facility.

How long will people be working at Duane Arnold?

About half the about 400 employees still working at the facility will leave by the end of the year, Robbins said, through a mix of retirements and offers to work at other NextEra facilities.

While decommissioning started early, many of the employee exit plans still are based on the planned Oct. 30 decommissioning date.


After about a year and a half, a “core” group of 50 employees will continue to work long-term as the decommissioning process continues.

What happens to the emergency sirens in Palo?

Robbins said NextEra has not made a decision yet on the future of the emergency sirens within the plant’s area that warns of any emergencies at the facility.

“We’ve been in discussions with different parties involved,” Robbins said. “We’ll get to the point at the site where our emergency planning area — the 10 miles around the plant — gets a lot smaller.”

Are there any other nuclear power plants in Iowa?

Duane Arnold was the last nuclear power plant in the state. The closest nuclear power plant is in Cordova, Ill., about 20 miles northeast of Moline along the Mississippi River.

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