RadWaste Monitor Vol. 13 No. 20
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Article 8 of 11
May 15, 2020

NRC Urged to Reject Pennsylvania Intervention in TMI-2 License Transfer

By ExchangeMonitor

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not proven its case to be allowed to intervene in the federal review of the license transfer application for reactor Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, according to the reactor’s owner and prospective buyer.

Subsidiaries of FirstEnergy Corp. and EnergySolutions on Monday filed their response with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the April 15 petition from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

In short, the companies said the agency failed to sufficiently demonstrate that EnergySolutions branch TMI-2 Solutions might not have the financial wherewithal to decommission the reactor after assuming ownership from FirstEnergy subsidiary GPU Nuclear.

“As explained in this Answer, DEP’s arguments lack merit, and its Proposed Contention falls far short of the admissibility requirements in” federal regulations on hearing requests to the NRC, according to lawyers for the companies. “Thus, the Petition must be denied.”

The Department of Environmental Protection cannot comment on the filing, a spokesman said Thursday.

Three Mile Island reactor Unit 2 has been retired since its famous partial meltdown in March 1979 after just a few months of power production near the capital city of Harrisburg. Ninety-nine percent of its used fuel and damaged core material have been shipped to the Department of Energy’s Idaho Site, with the reactor itself placed in post-defueling monitored storage.

GPU Nuclear and TMI-2 Solutions last November filed their joint license transfer application. Assuming approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TMI-2 Solutions hopes to buy the reactor by the end of 2020 and take all responsibility for decommissioning. It says it can complete the cleanup job in just over 16 years for about $1 billion, cutting 17 years from the previous schedule for decommissioning.

The Department of Environmental Protection raised only one contention in its April filing – financial assurance for completion of decommissioning. It said the information in the application did not prove that TMI-2 Solutions’ “financial qualifications” were sufficient to ensure the necessary adequate protection to the health and safety of the public.”

If authorized to intervene, the stage agency would become a party to the proceeding and argue its contention on the license transfer at an NRC hearing.

The case involves not just GPU Nuclear and TMI-2 Solutions, but three other FirstEnergy branches with stakes in the reactor: Metropolitan Edison, Jersey Central Power & Light, and Pennsylvania Electric.

In this week’s response, company lawyers countered specific fiscal concerns raised by the state, as well as its overall case for involvement in the license transfer proceeding.

In contravention of commission case law, the state failed to supply facts or expert opinion in the intervention petition to support its position, the companies said. Simply asserting concerns is not sufficient to uphold a contention, they argued.

“To be admissible, a contention must refer to the ‘specific portions of the Application … that the petitioner disputes,’ along with the ‘supporting reasons for each dispute; or, if the petitioner believes that an application fails altogether to contain information required by law, the petitioner must identify each failure, and provide supporting reasons for the petitioner’s belief,’” the company lawyers wrote.  “The Department does none of these things.”

The Department of Environmental Protection also never asked to review the proprietary version of the license transfer application, which this week’s filing says features the financial information it is seeking

The Department of Environmental Protection expressed doubt about the companies’ assertion that the reactor decommissioning trust fund will accrue the necessary $200 million to cover the cost of all work. The trust currently holds about $892 million, versus the nearly $1.1 billion projected cleanup cost. The accrual amount is based on a 2% rate of investment return for the trust during decommissioning, as allowed in federal regulations, according to GPU Nuclear and TMI-2 Solutions.

The license transfer applicants on Monday also formally opposed an intervention petition from the local advocacy organization Three Mile Island Alert.

The other reactor at Three Mile Island, Unit 1, was retired in September. Owner Exelon has said it plans to retain ownership of the reactor. It will be placed into SAFSTOR, under which final decommissioning can be delayed for up to 60 years.

The TMI-2 Solutions’ decommissioning approach involves two distinct phases, starting with planning, engineering and licensing operations, and clenaup of areas contaminated in the 1979 incident, according to the May 11 filing. For the most part, the plant will remain in monitored storage during ths time.

The second phase would involve “active decommissioning” to the point at which, per NRC regulations, the remediated property can be released for restricted or unrestricted use. That would leave just an areas for storage of debris from decommissioning, which under federal law the Department of Energy must eventually remove.

Financial terms of the planned reactor sale have not been made public. But, in line with other deals of this type, EnergySolutions could retain some portion of the decommissioning trust after its work is complete.

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