The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s proposed set of rules for nuclear power reactors in decommissioning could leave taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in costs in the event of a major accident, according to four U.S. senators.
Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) aired a number of concerns about the ongoing rulemaking in an Aug. 3 letter to NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki. Markey’s office released the letter on Tuesday.
“The proposed rule, as presented by NRC staff, would not establish the proper checks to ensure the safety and security of these plants as they move through the decommissioning process,” according to the senators, who noted they all represent states where atomic energy facilities have closed in recent years or are preparing to cease operations.
The NRC began the rulemaking in 2015, and staff in May submitted a long list of recommendations for review by the five-person commission. A vote on a final rules package is due in fall 2019.
The process is intended to apply specific regulations to power plants that are making the transition from operations to decommissioning. The intent is to relieve plant owners from having to request amendments to their NRC license or exemptions from federal regulations focused on sites that are still producing energy.
One proposal that worried the four lawmakers is reductions in financial protection requirements against liability claims. Under the NRC staff proposal, shuttered reactors at a certain point would be allowed to reduce the off-site requirement from $450 million to $100 million and the on-site requirement from $1.06 billion to $50 billion. That reduction could be triggered when all spent fuel has been moved from the reactor to the cooling pool and has “cooled sufficiently that it cannot heat up to clad ignition temperature within 10 hours under adiabatic conditions,” according to the staff regulatory analysis for the proposed rules package.
“We remain concerned that this drastically underestimates the potential for a disaster, and this proposal could end up costing taxpayers and local communities millions in the event a serious accident occurs,” the four senators wrote.