Monday, April 29, 2019

House Hearing: TMI Decommissioning Should Not Be Delayed; Highly Radioactivity Fuel Should Be Stored In Hardened, Secure Facilities

On April 29, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee heard recommendations that the spent nuclear waste at Pennsylvania's nuclear power plants should be stored in hardened, secure facilities and decommissioning of Three Mile Island, if it closes, should not be delayed 55 years.
Erie Epstein of Three Mile Island Alert, Inc. told the Committee there are now 7,560 metric tons of high-level radioactive spent nuclear fuel stored at Pennsylvania’s 5 nuclear power plant sites around the state.  
Epstein said he believes more robust measures are needed to provide for the storage of spent nuclear fuel at plant sites because he does not believe the permanent facility for long-term storage of spent nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada developed and operated by the U.S. Department of Energy will ever open because of legal and political challenges.
All the sites in Pennsylvania, except Three Mile Island, use dry cask storage for longer-term management of spent fuel on-site.  For short-term storage, the other sites use spent fuel pools of water to store the fuel for 3 to 5 years until it decays enough to be transferred to dry cask storage on-site.
Three Mile Island, however, only has a spent fuel pool to store the fuel from the currently operating Unit 1 reactor.  Dry cask storage was never developed on-site at TMI because it had excess spent fuel pool capacity because the 1979 Unit 2 accident happened just 90 days after it began operating.
Exelon filed a required decommissioning plan with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 5 saying it would not begin dismantling Three Mile Island if it did close for 55 years.  Spent radioactive fuel would be moved to a new dry cask storage facility onsite by the end of 2022.
Katie Tubb, Senior Policy Analyst, Energy and Environmental Institute for Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation, told the Committee, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has estimated the cost of decommissioning the currently operating Unit 1 at TMI is $467.8 million.  Unit 1 now has $625.9 million set aside in a decommissioning fund.
She said the NRC estimate for decommissioning the damaged Unit 2 reactor at TMI is $486.5 million and there is now $834.3 million in the reactor’s decommissioning fund.
Epstein recommended nuclear power plant owners should also be required to put up additional financial guarantees of not less than $500 million to insure the financial integrity of the decommissioning process.
Epstein said, “Reducing the amount of radioactive waste in fuel pools is a top priority. The waste would not be completely safe in dry storage, but independent engineers have testified that it would be safer.  
“Hardened On-Site Storage (“HOSS)” would provide better security at reactor sites with robust dry storage and oversight, including real-time monitoring of heat and radiation.”
Epstein also recommended any dry cask facility should be enclosed in a building for additional security and environmental protection, or at minimum, a barrier not less than 5 feet higher than the height of any casks should be constructed around the facility to reduce the potential for line-of-site attacks.
Epstein said Exelon should be required to continue to pay DEP for the costs for radiation and environmental monitoring around the site and the spent nuclear fuel.
He said it was also critical to continue the emergency planning and response activities within 10 miles of the site and to have Exelon reimburse communities and the state or those costs.
Epsten said delaying decommissioning of the site for 55 or 60 years as Exelon has proposed will guarantee the site will not be reused as a site for a natural gas power plant or for other uses that contribute to the community.
He said further complicating issues at the Three Mile Island is the fact the undamaged Unit 1 reactor is owned by Exelon and Unit 2 is still owned by FirstEnergy.
Click Here for a copy of Epstein’s PowerPoint.
David J. Allard, DEP Acting Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation & Remediation, outlined how DEP and the state would be involved in the decommissioning process which was described in a white paper on Three Mile Island written by DEP.
Allard noted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has regulations and issues licenses to plants involved in decommissioning and separately licenses on-site dry cask storage facilities.
Allard said the U.S. Department of Energy technically owns the high-level radioactive spent nuclear fuel as part of its yet unfulfilled commitment to providing long-term storage at the Yucca Mountain or some other facility.
The NRC also has jurisdiction over Class C radioactive waste-- contaminated parts of the facility other than fuel-- coming from the facility that will have to be stored in the dry cask facility and disposed of at Yucca Mountain or the permanent federal storage facility.
He said DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection will have jurisdiction over Class A and B low-level radioactive waste coming from the decommissioning process-- protective suits and other materials used during the cleanup process--  that will need to be disposed of through Pennsylvania’s involvement in the Appalachian Regional Low-level Radioactive Waste Compact at a site in Texas.
He said DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection will continue to maintain its independent oversight of the Three Mile Island site during the decommissioning transition. This effort will include, but not be limited to, site assessments, evaluations, and frequent interactions with the TMI decommissioning transition team and environmental monitoring group.
The Bureau will continue its environmental monitoring program at TMI during the site decommissioning process, and until the site is fully restored and released for unrestricted use.
Click Here for NRC overview of decommissioning process.  Click Here for NRC overview of Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility.
In response to questions, Katie Tubb, from The Heritage Foundation, told the Committee nationally there is $39.2 billion set aside in the federal Nuclear Waste Fund to provide for the permanent storage of spent nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
From 1982 to 2014 the money deposited in the Fund came from an assessment on electric ratepayers.  Pennsylvania ratepayers have paid $1.97 billion into the Fund and the Fund accrues interest at the rate of about $1.5 billion a year.
In 2014, nuclear power plant owners were successful in challenging the program in federal court saying the federal government was not making any progress in opening Yucca Mountain as it was required to do so ratepayers no longer had to pay the fee.
Since then, the U.S. Department of Energy has been funding activities there with federal taxpayer money.  The Trump Administration has recently restarted efforts to open Yucca Mountain and provided more funding in hopes of showing the federal court a viable effort is again underway so it could again begin to charge ratepayers for the program.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the Committee, expressed concern about the failure of the federal government to do its job and about the use of taxpayer money to support the effort.
Also presenting testimony or comments at the hearing were--
-- Jim Trapp, Director, Division of Nuclear Materials Safety, Region l, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Katherine Warner, Health Physicist, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Region 1, Division of Nuclear Material Safety Decommissioning, SFSl, and Reactor Health Physics Branch, provided an overview of NRC’s decommissioning and spent fuel regulation programs.  Click Here for NRC PowerPoint presentation.
-- Rodney McCullum, Senior Director, Fuel & Decommissioning, Nuclear Energy Institute, provided an overview of the spent nuclear fuel issue from the standpoint of the nuclear power industry. Click Here for PowerPoint.
-- Tom Chiomento, Director, State Government Affairs, Exelon Corporation
-- Doug Brown, Manager, Nuclear Fuel & Analysis, FirstEnergy Solutions
-- Jeffrey Hirt, Engineering Manager, Talen Energy
In a press release following the hearing, Rep. Metcalfe said, “It is fundamental economics that any business or organization that can no longer survive in the free market should not be entitled to endless taxpayer-funded subsidies, which in the case of keeping the 50 percent operational Three Mile Island nuclear power facility open, state taxpayers, job creators and electricity consumers would be on the hook for no less than $500 million annually.
“What we need right now are immediate, secure, and, most importantly, taxpayer-friendly solutions to safely contain and dispose of nuclear waste nationwide.
“It’s no longer enough to argue that the Nuclear Waste Fund should be reestablished and used for its intended purpose,” said Rep. Metcalfe. “Put simply, the feds are already sitting on billions of dollars while nuclear plants such as TMI could legitimately use that money to successfully decommission without unnecessarily exposing our national health, wealth and safety to lethal doses of radioactive waste or excessively burdening energy consumers, job creators or taxpayers with unaffordable costs, fees or fines.
“Getting access to these billions of dollars sooner rather than never is by far the most secure, cost-effective and equitable nuclear waste containment option.”
The issue of what to do with spent nuclear fuel has come up in Senate and House hearings on legislation to aid nuclear power plants.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to:
(Photo: Dry cask storage system for spent radioactive fuel at decommissioned Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)
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