Eric Epstein: Three Mile Island cleanup must be fully funded
ERIC EPSTEIN | Saturday, December 26, 2020 7:00 p.m.
CLEM MURRAY/THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/TNS
Three Mile Island
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently granted approval for the transfer of the license of Three Mile Island Unit-2 (TMI-2) from FirstEnergy, a public utility, to TMI-2 Solutions, a limited liability corporation based in Utah. The NRC approved the license transfer without holding a hearing. TMI-Alert speaks in opposition to such a move.
Why should you be concerned about the transfer of a license from a damaged nuclear power plant? The reality is that there is not enough money to clean up Three Mile Island. Any shortfall will require a bailout from Pennsylvania taxpayers. TMI’s underfunded cleanup fund should serve as a cautionary tale for taxpayers in Western Pennsylvania.
Three Mile Island Unit-2 was built at a cost to ratepayers of $700 million. The plant was over budget and behind schedule. The planned operating life of the plant was 40 years. At the time of the core melt accident on March 28, 1979, TMI had operated for just 90 days. There were no decommissioning funds set aside.
In 1982, Gov. Richard Thornburgh cobbled together a $1 billion fund to pay for the removal of the damaged fuel. But funding problems did not go away.
Following the accident at TMI-2 , the NRC created the TMI-2 Advisory Panel. The Advisory Panel met 78 times in the vicinity of TMI-2, and met regularly with NRC commissioners. Inadequate funding for TMI-2’s future closure was a constant concern expressed by the advisory panel.
These concerns have become reality. On March 26, 2018, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated the decommissioning price tag for TMI-2 to be $1.266 billion. The cost to clean up TMI-2, based on FirstEnergy’s most recent estimates, is $1.4 billion. That amount doesn’t cover the cost to remove radioactive waste from the island.
The NRC recently granted FirstEnergy approval, without a hearing, to transfer TMI-2’s license. The new owner, TMI-2 Solutions, is a limited liability corporation from Utah with no assets. The problem remains the same, except the underfunded cleanup plan has been handed off from a public utility to a private venture.
There is approximately $900 million in the cleanup fund, which is $500 million less than is needed to get the job done. Still, in defiance of logic, the NRC granted the license transfer to TMI-2 Solutions. What happens if TMI-2 Solutions runs out of money? You can bet it will not be a limited liability company picking up the tab.
Regardless of anyone’s position on nuclear power, or party affiliation, funding should be in place to accomplish a complete cleanup, and ensure removal of high-level radioactive waste from Three Mile Island.
The TMI cleanup funding dilemma is a warning for taxpayers in Western Pennsylvania. Beaver Valley Nuclear Station, like TMI-2, was owned by FirstEnergy.
In 2018, FirstEnergy Solutions filed for bankruptcy and announced it would deactivate Beaver Valley. In bankruptcy documents filed in 2019, FirstEnergy estimated it would cost $380 million to decommission Unit 1, and an additional $367 million to decommission Unit 2.
Beaver Valley was on the verge of closing in 2021. Its new owner, Energy Harbor, emerged out of the FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy.
What’s next? Who pays to clean up Beaver Valley when the decommissioning funds come up short?
Eric Epstein is chairman of Three Mile Island Alert Inc. (www.tmia.com).