The Waterbury Record in Vermont has editorialized against Entergy Nuclear's raiding of the Vermont Yankee atomic reactor's decommissioning fund to inappropriately pay for high-level radioactive waste management. The editorial reports that Entergy is attempting to raid $225 million from the $665 million decommissioning fund, to use for high-level radioactive waste management. The editorial cheered the State of Vermont's lawsuit against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for allowing this to happen, and urges the court of appeals to do the right thing.
Decommissioning costs - the funds needed when a reactor is shut down and the site needs to be dismantled, removed and cleaned up - are sky-rocketing. Worse, many utilities have invested these funds in the now troubled stockmarket, meaning decommissioning funds may not be available when needed.
Raided Palisades' decommissioning fund $100 million short of minimum dismantlement/clean-up price tag
As admitted by Entergy to NRC on March 30, 2015 (see page 17 & 18 on the PDF counter), the Palisades atomic reactor's (photo, left) decommissioning trust fund is $100 million short of the minimum total needed.
Palisades has in hand only $384 million, of the $485 million needed.
That $485 million price tag must be taken with a grain of salt, as a significant underestimate. Palisades has suffered decades of radioactive leaks -- as recently as March 19, 2015 (a 100 gallon "migration" of tritium from degraded steam generator tubes, ultimately into the environment). This lingering radioactive contamination will add substantially to Palisades' low-balled decommissioning price tag estimate.
What makes this decommissioning fund shortfall all the more objectionable is the fact that in 2007, the fund was raided by the previous owner, Consumers Energy, and Entergy, as part of the sales agreement. The Michigan Public Service Commission blessed this unacceptable raid. Around $100 million went into Consumers Energy's pockets. Around $100 million went into Entergy's pockets. And around $100 million was refunded to ratepayers -- apparently to "justify" the raid, and/or to quiet dissent.
But now ratepayers will get to pay back into the decommissioning trust fund, to compensate for the raid. And Entergy, as well as NRC, are justifying the continued operation of the dangerously age-degraded Palisades reactor, at least in part, on the need to rebuild the raided decommissioning fund!
Entergy Nuclear is infamous for its arrogance. Now, reports the Associated Press, the country's second biggest nuclear utility, with one less than a dirty dozen atomic reactors in its fleet (Vermont Yankee -- VY -- was forced into permanent shutdown on Dec. 29th under intense public pressure), is threatening the State of Vermont to simply walk away from the radioactively contaminated site after 60 years, if the decommissioning is not yet completed.
The threat was made by Entergy Vice President Michael Twomey, to State of Vermont legislative committees. Under the Orwellian policy "SAFSTOR," the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) allows nuclear utilities to simply sit on permanently shutdown reactors, without doing radiological clean up or facility dismantlement.
Entergy only has about $666 million in the VY decommissioning fund -- only about half what is projected to be needed. The agreement to not require Entergy to put a single penny into the decommissioning fund, from when it took over VY in 2002 till now, was approved by Gov. Howard Dean's (D-VT) administration, well over a decade ago.
Entergy's plan is to keep the $666 million invested in the stock market, so its value can grow to the needed $1.25 billion. What happens if the money is lost in another stock market crash, Entergy is not saying.
The dilemma is, if Entergy withdraws funds from the $666 million decommissioning kitty, that lessens the investment in the stock market, which it hopes will double the funds value.
The State of Vermont is urging Entergy to begin VY decommissioning within 15 years. But Entergy has given no date certain for when decommissioning will begin. It has only pledged to transfer high-level radioactive waste from the storage pool to dry cask storage by 2020.
But Entergy has also reneged on its pledges in the past, such as to honor the State of Vermont's decision on approving or disapproving VY's 20-year license extension. When, in Feb. 2010, Vermont State Senators voted 26 to 4 to block VY's license extension, Entergy reneged on its agreement, and instead sued Vermont in federal court! In fact, Entergy V.P. Twomey just threatened to sue the State of Vermont again, this time over decommissioning liabilities after the 60-year SAFSTOR cut off!
Despite its plan to continue to store high-level radioactive waste in the pool till 2020, Entergy is seeking to end its support for emergency preparedness in the 10-mile radius surrounding VY, as early as next year. The State of VT is pressing for Entergy to maintain emergency response capability, so long as irradiated nuclear fuel remains in the storage pool.
The $1.25 billion price tag on decommissioning is itself dubious. Just a few days ago, the State of Vermont announced that hazardous Strontium-90 -- a bone seeker -- has been discovered in VY monitoring wells. The extent of the tritium contamination revealed in 2009 and 2010 is likely not comprehensively known (see photo, above left). That, and the presence of such radioactive hazards as Sr-90 in the soil, groundwater, and Connecticut River sediment contamination, could easily mean the decommissioning price tag will significantly increase.
(Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School, expert witness on behalf of this environmental coalition, has estimated that storage and disposal of irradiated nuclear fuel could add $210 to $350 billion onto the costs of nuclear-generated electricity in the U.S. In addition, the once-per-century replacement of dry cask storage across the U.S., assumed by NRC in its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" DGEIS, would add another $100 billion per replacement, Cooper estimates. Cooper asserts that NRC cannot ignore such "staggering" costs in its EIS on the costs and risks of generating irradiated nuclear fuel in the first place -- that is, approving new reactor construction and operating licenses, and old reactor license extensions.)
An environmental coalition of nearly three dozen groups, including Beyond Nuclear, has submitted comments on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS). The coalition is represented by a team of attorneys, including Diane Curran (photo, left) of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, and Eisenberg, LLP, Washington, D.C.; Mindy Goldstein, Director, and Jillian Kysor, Fellow, Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; and Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director, and Deborah Brancato, Staff Attorney, Riverkeeper, Ossining, NY.
The coalition is also represented by a team of expert witnesses, including Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, MD; David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists, Chattanooga, TN; Dr. Gordon Thompson, Executive Director, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, MA; and Dr. Mark Cooper, Senior Research Fellow for Economic Analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT.
The environmental coalition's comments, as well as its expert witnesses' declarations, have been posted on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) website, as well as at the bottom of a press release featuring the work of Dr. Cooper on the economic costs of irradiated nuclear fuel management. The coalition's comment and expert witness declarations are also posted at the NIRS website.
Curran, on behalf of three environmental groups (Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Riverkeeper, and SACE), in alliance with Natural Resource Defense Council, as well as four state attorneys general (CT, NJ, NY, and VT) won a landmark legal victory on June 8, 2012. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that NRC had to carry out an environmental impact statement on its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy and rule, including the on-site storage risks of irradiated nuclear fuel in pools and dry casks. The Dec. 20th public comment deadline on the DGEIS is a part of that court-ordered process.
Expert to NRC: Hidden costs of reactor waste storage & disposal make nuclear power less attractive than wind, solar, efficiency
On Thurs., Dec. 19th at 11 AM Eastern, Diane Curran and Mark Cooper (photo, left), attorney and expert witness, respectively, representing a coalition of dozens of environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, will hold a press conference entitled: EXPERT TO TELL NRC THAT HIDDEN COSTS OF REACTOR WASTE STORAGE & DISPOSAL MAKES NUCLEAR POWER LESS ATTRACTIVE THAN WIND, SOLAR, AND MORE ENERGY EFFICIENCY; Do High Costs of Nuclear Now Make Licensing and Re-Licensing Indefensible in Terms of the Economics?; Comments to NRC From Economist Mark Cooper State Federal Agency Must Consider Full Cost of Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal. Cooper serves at the Vermont Law School. Curran serves at Harmon Curran Speilberg + Eisenberg LLP in Washington, D.C. See the Hastings Group's press advisory, with instructions on how to listen-in to the press conference, either live in real time, or to the audio recording afterwards.
The press release reports: In the NRC filing, Cooper states: “Are the economic costs of at-reactor nuclear waste storage and disposal in a permanent repository large enough to affect the economics of nuclear power and, therefore, should the Nuclear Regulatory Commission consider those costs in its nuclear licensing decisions? The answer is simple and clear–these costs are so large they must be considered. Conservatively estimating these costs, I put the total cost in the range of $210 to $350 billion, in real, undiscounted dollars. That is a figure that is certainly large enough to demand consideration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”'
Cooper goes on to estimate that replacing dry cask storage across the country once per century, as is assumed by the NRC "Nuclear Waste Confidence" DGEIS -- would cost $100 billion per replacement.
Whereas the Nuclear Waste Fund, established by enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as Amended, in 1983, has generated some $30 billion by charging a surcharge of one mill (one tenth of a cent) per kilowatt-hour of nuclear generated electricity on ratepayers' bills, those costs now appear to be shifting entirely onto federal taxpayers. In late 2013, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DOE must urge Congress to end collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fee, as no repository is currently under development.However, any shortfall in the Nuclear Waste Fund would have already been foisted onto taxpayer shoulders. Several years ago, DOE estimated that the proposed (since wisely cancelled by the Obama administration) Yucca dump's price tag approached $100 billion. The Nuclear Waste Fund would only have raised around half that amount. The other half would have been foisted onto taxpayers anyways!