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Public Hearing to Unravel TMI Nuclear Waste Containment Options

from PA House ERE Chairman Metcalfe

May 07, 2019

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) convened a public hearing on April 29, to receive testimony on the Commonwealth’s nuclear waste containment options, costs and security issues in light of the impending closure of Three Mile Island (TMI).

“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,” said Metcalfe. “What we need right now are immediate, secure, and, most importantly, taxpayer-friendly solutions to safely contain and dispose of nuclear waste nationwide.”

Testifiers ranging from policy experts from the Heritage Foundation and Nuclear Energy Institute; energy sector representatives from Exelon Corporation (owner of TMI-1), First Energy (owner of TMI-2), and Talen Energy; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection were invited to present further insight on how to cost-effectively address nuclear waste containment and disposal any time a nuclear facility such as TMI is decommissioned:

  • “The industry has failed to deal with the riddle of what to do with the nuclear waste,” stated Eric Epstein, EFMR Monitoring Group. “Three Mile Island generates 30 metric tons of high-level waste a year. It’s been operating for over 40 years. Three Mile Island, an island in a river, is not a radioactive waste site.”
  • Security must be employed to protect the area from nefarious actors for the half-life of the waste, which will be thousands of years. (Plutonium’s half-life is 24,000 years, while Strontium and Cesium have a half-life of about 30 years).
  • As of December 2017, TMI-1, which is owned by Exelon Corporation, reported having $707,000 in a federally mandated decommissioning trust fund. Based on an NRC formula, Exelon would need $478,000 to shut down the plant and remove any radiological contamination. It’s possible—and, indeed, likely—the actual cost will be far greater.
  • TMI-2, which is owned by First Energy, had $834,000 in its decommissioning trust fund as of December 2017 against an estimated $1.3 billion in costs, based on the NRC’s formula.
  • Nationwide, the inventory of used nuclear fuel has now grown to more than 80,000 metric tons, while the taxpayer liability for federal government inaction continues to increase.
  • Taxpayers are assessed $2.2 million per day due to the federal government’s failure to meet its obligation to dispose of used fuel that currently resides at nuclear plants across the country.
  • Pennsylvania is the second largest contributor to the federal Nuclear Waste Fund, which historically congressional budgeting practices have prevented the use of this fund for its intended purpose of developing a geologic repository for used nuclear fuel such as Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
  • Established in 2002, Yucca Mountain’s future also remains in limbo even though decades of safety and environmental reviews of the site have concluded that the proposed repository fully complies with all regulations and could safely protect future generations.
  • In late 2013, a federal court ruled that the Department of Energy must stop collecting fees for nuclear waste disposal until provisions are made to collect nuclear waste.
  • According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, Pennsylvania has contributed $1.97 billion (nearly $2 billion) to the Nuclear Waste Fund, which is currently sitting on an unspent balance of $44.5 billion as of Fiscal Year 2017.
  • These unused billions are most likely going nowhere until nuclear power producers successfully litigate for access.

“It’s no longer enough to argue that the Nuclear Waste Fund should be reestablished and used for its intended purpose,” concluded Chairman 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.”

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