When Nuclear Plants Close: Challenges for U.S. Reactor Decommissioning
October 22, 2015

On October 15, 2015, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater hosted a forum at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on the welcome -- but daunting -- challenges of atomic reactor decommissioning. A long overdue wave of atomic reactor closures has begun, heralding the beginning of a wave of plant dismantlements, site radiological "clean-ups," and energy economy transitions.

The timely forum came in light of a record-breaking 2013-2014, with six atomic reactor closures across the U.S. and Canada, at: Gentilly Unit 2, Quebec; Kewaunee, WI; Crystal River, FL; San Onofre Units 2 & 3, CA; and Vermont Yankee. The conference took place just days after Entergy announced its plan to close Pilgrim in MA by 2019 at the latest, and perhaps as soon as 2017. Exelon also plans to close a reactor in 2019: Oyster Creek, NJ. And Entergy is expected to make an announcement on the future -- or lack thereof -- of its FitzPatrick reactor in upstate NY.

As David Lochbaum of UCS documented in his presentation (see below), some 26 atomic reactors have permanently shutdown over the past several decades across the U.S. They are now in various stages of decommissioning. However, most, to all, of the high-level radioactive waste generated at such shutdown reactors (including Big Rock Point, MI; Maine Yankee; Connecticut Yankee; Yankee Rowe, MA; etc.) remains stored on-site, in dry cask storage. The Zion Units 1 & 2 decommissioning, underway in northeast IL on the Lake Michigan shoreline, is the largest in U.S. history.

Curt Collier, Leader for Environmental Advocacy at the NY Society for Ethical Culture, welcomed a packed room. Katherine Kennedy, Director of NRDC's Energy & Transportation Program, gave the introduction.

Geoffrey Fettus, NRDC Senior Attorney, moderated the first panel, on "National Perspectives on Decommissioning." Featured speakers included:  

---Mycle Schneider, Paris-based International Consultant on Energy and Nuclear Policy, and Convening Lead Author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), on "The Prospects for U.S. Nuclear Retirements in the International Context";

---Gregory Jaczko, Former Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on "Challenges Inherent in Sustainable, Durable Progress on Reactor Decommissioning";

---Peter Bradford, Former NRC Commissioner, and Former Chair of both the ME and NY Public Utility Commissions, on "State and Federal Roles in Decommissioning Policy: What They Are and What They Could Be".

---and John Sipos, Assistant Attorney General, NY Attorney General's Office, on "Challenges in New York from the Inidan Point, and Other, Reactors";

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, moderated the second panel, on "State and Local Decommissioning Issues," with a focus on New York. Featured speakers included: 

---Deborah Katz, Executive Director, Citizen's Awareness Network, on the "Deregulation of Decommissioning";

---Tim Judson, Executive Director, Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS), on "Decommissioning Risks and Opportunities for States and Local Communities";

---Paul Gallay, President, Hudson Riverkeeper, on "Perspectives on Indian Point";

---and David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists, on "Technical and Regulatory Concerns for Decommissioning" (Lochbaum was unfortunately unable to make it as planned; in his absence, Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps was honored to present the slideshow on Lochbaum's behalf).

A lively opened discussion followed, and Matthew McKinzie, NRDC's Nuclear Program Director, gave concluding remarks. 

The conference was made possible by the generous support of the Jack and Belle Alpern Foundation.

Beyond Nuclear's participation was made possible by the generous support of an anonymous donor.

See the event's program here.

The sponsors plan to make the video recording of the event available online in the near future, as well as all of the presentation power points. Beyond Nuclear will provide links on its website to those resources as soon as they are available.

In the meantime, please visit Beyond Nuclear's "Reactors Are Closing," as well as Decommissioning, website sub-sections, for more information.

In addition, see the NIRS Decommissioning website sub-section, for more information.

Article originally appeared on Beyond Nuclear (http://www.beyondnuclear.org/).
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