By John Stang
The current and would-be owner of the infamous Three Mile Island reactor Unit 2 in Pennsylvania believe almost $300 million and 16 years can be trimmed from the prior decommissioning plan for the facility.
In a package submitted Dec. 12, 2019, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, GPU Nuclear and TMI-2 Solutions said decommissioning can be completed at a cost of $1.06 billion, compared to a 2018 estimate of $1.32 billion.
That same package includes moving the completion date for decommissioning from 2053 to 2037.
Three Mile Island Unit 2 experienced a partial meltdown in 1979, permanently shutting it down after just a few months of power production. Since then, the reactor’s coolant has been drained, and its spent fuel and other wastes have been shipped off-site.
Last October, nuclear services firm EnergySolutions signed a contract with GPU Nuclear, a subsidiary of power company FirstEnergy Corp., to acquire TMI-2 and its NRC reactor license. The other sellers were minority owners Metropolitan Edison Co., Jersey Central Power & Light Co., and Pennsylvania Electric Co. Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions would transfer ownership and license to its own subsidiary, TMI-2 Solutions.
In November, TMI-2 Solutions and the sellers applied to the NRC for the reactor license transfer needed for the sale to proceed. They expect the license transfer to be complete in the second half of this year.
On Dec. 12, TMI-2 Solutions, with GPU Nuclear’s help, submitted revised estimates for a budget and timetable to decommission Reactor 2. The document amends 2018 post-shutdown decommissioning activities report (PSDAR) submitted by GPU Nuclear.
The package divides the cleanup into two stages.
The first is supposed to run from 2024 to 2029, which would involve clearing out the containment building and packing all loose debris. The first phase’s estimated price tag is $563 million, including $114 million in contingency funds.
The second phase is supposed to run from 2029 to 2037 — with an estimate of $494 million, including $75 million in contingency funds. It would cover removing the remaining equipment and demolishing all of the buildings to 3 feet below the ground’s surface. This will include backfilling the excavated ground, along with removing the cooling towers.
As of last spring, TMI-2’s decommissioning trust fund held $850 million.
“The annual 10 GFR 50.75(f)(1) reports continue to· demonstrate that the current fund balances are more than adequate to cover the expected future cost of decommissioning. In the event that future estimated costs or funding levels change significantly, TMl-2 Solutions will make the necessary adjustments to ensure that sufficient funds remain available for decommissioning,” the Dec. 12 paperwork says.
In a related matter, an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on Jan. 23 rejected a petition for intervention opposing a proposal by Exelon Generation Co. to cut back on its emergency preparedness measures for the full Three Mile Island property. The company owns reactor Unit 1, which shut down permanently in September after 45 years of operation
Exelon is in charge of the emergency preparedness measures for both TMI-1 and TMI-2, according to the three-member board’s ruling.
Exelon plans to place TMI-1 in “safe storage,” or SAFSTOR, mode, under which completion of decommissioning can be delayed for up to 60 years. Consequently, active decommissioning at TMI-1 is expected to begin in the 2070s, with license termination in 2079 under Exelon’s schedule.
Exelon completed removal of fuel from the reactor before the end of September. It will be cooled before being placed into dry storage. A dry-storage facility is scheduled to be built and operational by 2022, though a contractor has not been named. The waste will be held in 46 canisters.
The NRC and power plant operators say a facility poses a significantly lower hazard once it has been defueled, opening the door for reductions in emergency preparedness requirements.
In a July 2019 license amendment request on emergency preparedness, Exelon said its emergency preparedness reductions, if allowed, would be implemented around Jan. 30, 2021 – 488 days after the reactor was retired. They would include reductions in standards for on-site and-off site emergency response plans and requirements for emergency planning zones for plume exposure and ingestion pathway, according to the atomic safety board ruling.
In November, the citizens group Three Mile Island Alert protested cutting back on the emergency preparedness measures. The organization argued that there has been no environmental impact study on reducing emergency preparedness, and that both FirstEnergy and Exelon have not shown they have the money to keep the site safe with those proposed cuts. It sought approval from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to intervene in the proceeding, which would allow it to argue contentions against the license amendment.
Three Mile Island Alert cited concerns about bankruptcy proceedings at FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions affecting TMI-2. FirstEnergy has previously said Three Mile Island’s decommissioning won’t be hampered by the bankruptcy. The parent company is the direct owner of the Pennsylvania reactor.
FirstEnergy and Exelon argued that Three Mile Island Alert did not have legal standing to combat the proposed cuts, and had not filed admissible contentions. The safety board agreed with their arguments.
In a written statement, Three Mile Island Alert Chairman Eric Epstein contested the atomic board’s ruling, noting the organization has been active in TMI-related litigation for at least 40 years. The organization plans to pursue this issue in the Pennsylvania state legislature, he said. Epstein argued that the state could end footing the bill for emergency preparedness.
“Exelon is proposing to retreat to the fence line, reduce staffing, eliminate evacuation exercises, and defund emergency responders. Exelon’s plan to shrink its commitment to emergency planning ignores TMI-’s unique status as a radioactive island with a melted core, and 1,500 tons of high-level radioactive waste without a forwarding address…. This is a scheme to save money, and return TMI to the pre-1979 era where emergency planning was little more than an afterthought stored in a drawer,” Epstein wrote.