Fukushima to Vermont Yankee: Uncontrolled releases mean more uncontrolled costs for decommissioning and environmental cleanup
Uncontrolled radioactive leaks continue to spring from nuclear power plants around the world and into the news; from the multi-unit wreckage of Fukushima Daiichi in Japan to the recently shuttered Vermont Yankee nuke here in the US. The ongoing pollution of air, land and water means that no one can reliably predict the ultimate cost of decommissioning these radioactive hulks or the quality of the environmental cleanup left to generations decades from now.
Radioactive leaks from known sources and from still unmonitored pathways are streaming from the Fukushima reactor wreckage into the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO recently reported that radioactivity was being monitored in a discharge canal for rain runoff and groundwater from the disaster area that is 70 times greater than any previous recorded levels of contamination. The radioactive leak set off site alarms after detecting high levels of strontium-90 in the drainage ditch. TEPCO has not been able to identify the source of the radioactive spike that could be coming from any number of sources including an expanding tank farm for holding highly radioactive cooling water or the three melted reactor cores somewhere beneath the site still contaminating groundwater. Uncontrolled radioactive leaks from Fukushima have continued to plague the reactor site on the eastern coast of Japan where all six units (the four units destroyed by the accident and the two permanently closed undamaged units) demonstrate the uncertainty and difficulty for bringing this four year-old nuclear catastrophe to a close. Current decommissioning cost estimates run from TEPCO’s paltry $125 billion to $500 billion according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. One thing is for sure with the ongoing uncontrolled radioactive leaks, there is no reliability for predicting the quality of an environmental cleanup or the ultimate costs of decommissioning the reactor site despite the assurances of the International Atomic Energy Agency that “significant progress” is being made.
Meanwhile back in the US, the Vermont Department of Health disclosed its discovery of strontium-90 contamination in four groundwater wells at Entergy’s permanently closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. This radioactive relic of the Atomic Age and de facto high-level nuclear waste site is situated in the Connecticut River valley of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Neither Entergy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission nor the State of Vermont have located the exact source(s), past or present, of these radioactive leaks to groundwater. The consequences are the same, however. Vermont’s latest discovery adds millions of dollars to Yankee’s estimated $1.25 billion decommissioning and dubious cleanup bill; a process that Entergy plans to delay for the next 60 years because they have roughly half the estimated cost in the company’s decommissioning “trust” fund. Such decommissioning plans, approved by the NRC, are more akin to dismantling the company's long-term liability than the reactor site.