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Public can weigh in on transfer of Three Mile Island's stricken Unit 2 to decommissioning firm

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 3/27/20

On the 41st anniversary of the nation’s worst commercial nuclear power accident, the public is being given the chance to weigh in on the proposed transfer of the stricken Three Mile Island Unit …

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Public can weigh in on transfer of Three Mile Island's stricken Unit 2 to decommissioning firm

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On the 41st anniversary of the nation’s worst commercial nuclear power accident, the public is being given the chance to weigh in on the proposed transfer of the stricken Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor to EnergySolutions.

EnergySolutions in October 2019 announced signing a contract with Unit 2 owners and license holders GPU Nuclear and other FirstEnergy subsidiaries to acquire the reactor, pending approvals by the NRC and by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

EnergySolutions is among a number of U.S. companies that have emerged in recent years that specialize in the accelerated decommissioning of nuclear plants.

The public has until April 27 to comment on the proposed license transfer application for Unit 2. It was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Nov. 12, 2019.

People have until April 15 to request a hearing on the application, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

EnergySolutions, through its subsidiary TMI-2 Solutions, wants to acquire Unit 2 and finish decommissioning the reactor by 2037 — making the site available for potential other uses decades ahead of the current schedule — according to the license transfer application pending before the NRC.

EnergySolutions has requested the NRC issue an order consenting to transfer of the license by July 31, 2020. TMI-2 Solutions projects to close on purchase of the Unit 2 reactor in the second half of 2020.

Following the accident that began on March 28, 1979, about 99 percent of the fuel and damaged core material was removed from Unit 2 and shipped to a U.S. Department of Energy facility in Idaho.

But over the 41 years since, all further activities to decontaminate and dismantle Unit 2 has been deferred until Unit 1 is decommissioned.

In September 2019, Unit 1 owner Exelon shut down Unit 1. But Unit 1 is not to be fully decommissioned until 2078, under Exelon plans submitted to the NRC.

But EnergySolutions would change that, essentially uncoupling the two reactors when it comes to decommissioning and Unit 2 “will largely be independent of the decommissioning activities” at Unit 1, EnergySolutions tells the NRC in its license transfer application.

When companies such as EnergySolutions acquire a nuclear reactor, they also acquire the trust fund that the previous license holder is required by the NRC to have to pay for decommissioning.

By pledging to do decommissioning faster, more efficiently and at less cost without using all of the trust fund, these companies can potentially profit from the amount of money left in the trust fund that is not needed for decommissioning.

The trust fund is made up of funds that have been paid into it over time by ratepayers.

The trust fund balance for Unit 2 was just less than $835 million in 2018, according to the most recent update provided by GPU.

TMI-2 Solutions projects it will cost about $1.06 billion to decommission Unit 2 by 2037.

“Current funds” in the decommissioning trust fund that would be transferred to TMI-2 Solutions “provide adequate funding for decommissioning when accounting for fund growth over the decommissioning term,” TMI-2 Solutions tells the NRC.

In addition to the trust fund, TMI-2 Solutions is pledging additional financial assets totaling up to $100 million to cover decommissioning Unit 2, plus a “parent guarantee” EnergySolutions says it will provide to FirstEnergy at the time of closing on the sale of Unit 2.

This is to guarantee “the payment and performance of the obligations of TMI-2 Solutions as to the (Unit 2) decommissioning,” according to the documents submitted to the NRC.

EnergySolutions can also reduce costs and increase efficiency by taking radioactive waste from Unit 2 to the company’s own disposal facility in Clive, Utah — “the largest low-level radioactive waste disposal facility” in the nation, according to documents submitted to the NRC.

The watchdog group TMI-Alert opposes NRC transferring the license for Unit 2 to EnergySolutions.

“EnergySolutions lacks the requisite resources to ensure sufficient funding will be available for decommissioning,” leading to concerns taxpayers and ratepayers will be left holding the bag, according to a statement from TMI-Alert Chairman Eric Epstein. “GPU’s decommissioning fund is under $1 billion, and it will take up to $5 billion to achieve any semblance of a partial cleanup.”

TMI-Alert also opposes transferring assets of the trust fund to EnergySolutions, saying that the fund “is owned by ratepayers.”

“The transfer of decommissioning assets from First Energy to TMI-2 Solutions is an illegal taking of public property, and would constitute one of the largest privatizations of public property in Pennsylvania history,” the statement said. “Neither GPU or FirstEnergy have contributed a dime to the fund despite the fact that they were responsible for the core meltdown” in 1979.

TMI-Alert calls TMI-2 Solutions “a fictional company” existing on paper only and lacking “the experience and financial resources to decommission one of the most radioactive sites in America.”

The statement further notes the Idaho DOE facility wants all commercial waste “out by 2035, and the melted reactor at (Unit 2) is not an ideal site to store a melted core.”

 How to submit a comment

You can submit a comment by using any of the following methods, the NRC says:  

Go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for Docket ID NRC-2020-0082. Address questions about NRC docket IDs in regulations.gov to Jennifer Borges; telephone 301-287-9127; email jennifer.Borges@nrc.gov. 

Email comments to: hearing.Docket@nrc.gov. If you do not receive an automatic email reply confirming receipt, then contact the Office of the Secretary at 301-415-1677.

Fax comments to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at 301-415-1101.

Mail comments to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff.

Hand deliver comments to: 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville  Maryland 20852, between 7:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. (Eastern Time) Federal workdays; telephone 301-415-1677.