The Lead

Anti-nuclear activists cry foul over Exelon’s request to use TMI decommissioning dollars for waste storage

By: - April 25, 2019 3:56 pm

Three Mile Island. (Z22/Wikimedia Commons)

The owner of Three Mile Island in Dauphin County is asking the feds for permission to use a decommissioning nest egg to pay for keeping nuclear waste safe, drawing the ire of anti-nuclear activists.

Exelon Corporation, a Chicago-based energy producer, has requested federal approval to use dollars set aside to help safely close TMI, just a few miles south of Harrisburg, to instead preserve spent nuclear fuel.

The multi-billion dollar company, which also owns the Limerick plant in Montgomery County, plans to store used radioactive waste at the TMI site if it is decommissioned in fall 2019.

“If” being the operative word.

TMI’s fate has been driving political discourse in the General Assembly this year, as lawmakers grapple with passing a bill to subsidize the nuclear industry. Exelon said it will begin the closure process this year if lawmakers don’t vote to treat nuclear energy like renewables including wind and solar.

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In a filing with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Exelon estimated it would cost $270 million in the first four years to wind down operations and secure spent nuclear fuel, before settling into an average cost of $10 million a year for the next decade.

The federal government requires nuclear power plants to create funds to pay for the labor and resources to break down an offline nuclear plant. The money is typically raised from rate-payer fees.

The NRC estimates the process can cost between $280 to $612 million dollars for the average nuclear power plant. Three Mile Island’s fund currently has $681 million in it, according to the federal filing.

In its filing, Exelon claims their fund has enough money to pay for the fuel management as well as a safe shutdown. The Chicago-based company estimates that keeping the plant safe even as it closes could cost $1.1 billion into the 2080s.

But Eric Epstein, a government watchdog, consumer advocate, and head of Three Mile Island Alert, said the plan would slow down the clean up of TMI’s disabled No. 2 reactor and drag out the decommissioning process.

“Utilities build their own waste storage facilities,” Epstein said. “Decommissioning funds were not designed to underwrite day-to-day operations of nuclear power plants.”

He added that at Beaver County’s Shippingport plant, owner FirstEnergy Corp. paid out of pocket to store waste instead of using their federally mandated decommissioning dollars.

Matthew Wald, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, said that using decommissioning money for storage was a standard industry practice.

He added that the U.S. federal government had agreed to solve the problem of spent fuel storage in the 1980’s, but has still yet to follow through on that promise/

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.