Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is intervening in the proceeding for FirstEnergy Corporation’s application to transfer the license for Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant to an EnergySolutions subsidiary for decommissioning. The Pennsylvania DEP filed its petition to intervene in the transfer of TMI-2’s possession only license, along with a request to extend the time to file a request for a hearing, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Background: FirstEnergy subsidiaries GPU Nuclear, Metropolitan Edison Company, Jersey Central Power & Light Company, and Pennsylvania Electric Company, along with TMI-2 Solutions LLC, applied to the NRC for the direct transfer of the license for TMI-2 on November 12, 2019. The NRC is also considering amending the possession only license for administrative purposes to reflect the proposed transfer. On March 26, the NRC published in the Federal Register an opportunity to comment, request a hearing, and petition for leave to intervene in the license transfer proceeding. If the NRC approves the license transfer, TMI–2 Solutions would acquire ownership of TMI–2 and would be responsible for the maintenance and decommissioning of the reactor.
EnergySolutions announced in July 2019 that it was in negotiations with GPU Nuclear to decommission TMI-2. The decommissioning work is to be performed by ES/Jingoli Decommissioning, a joint venture that EnergySolutions formed with the New Jersey–based construction company Jingoli. Located near Middletown, Pa., TMI-2 experienced a partial meltdown on March 28, 1979. The reactor was placed in a safe and stable storage condition known as post-defueling monitored storage, and its nuclear fuel was moved to a storage facility at Idaho National Laboratory.
What Pennsylvania wants: In its petition to intervene, filed with the NRC on April 15, the Pennsylvania DEP claims that the license transfer application does not provide assurance that sufficient funds are available to fully decommission and restore the TMI-2 site. The DEP notes that TMI-2 currently has $800 million in its nuclear decommissioning trust, while the estimated cost of decommissioning the reactor is $1.22 billion.
According to the Pennsylvania DEP, FirstEnergy and EnergySolutions have not provided any basis for assuming that the interest accrued from the decommissioning trust over the anticipated 16-year decommissioning process will be enough to cover the cost of cleaning up the site. “While the department welcomes a properly conducted and expedited cleanup and restoration of the TMI-2 site, the obvious risk of a funding shortfall and the attendant significant health, safety, environmental, financial, and economic risks to the Commonwealth and its citizens raise serious questions about the realization of that benefit,” the petition states.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania DEP also asked that the NRC extend its April 15 deadline for requesting a hearing by one month.
In an April 6 letter to NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki, Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell raised concerns about the radiological conditions of TMI-2, with the implication that radiation risks resulting from the historic accident could increase the cost of decommissioning above the $1.2 billion estimate. “I firmly believe TMI Unit 2 is the most radiologically contaminated facility in our nation outside of the Department of Energy’s weapons complex,” McDonnel said.
In an April 13 letter in response to the DEP’s concerns, Gregory Halnon, president and chief nuclear officer of GPU Nuclear, noted that 99 percent of TMI-2’s nuclear fuel has been moved to the dry storage facility in Idaho and that over the past 30 years, the plant has been carefully monitored by GPU Nuclear, Exelon, and the NRC, with oversight by the Pennsylvania Division of Nuclear Safety.
Competition from fossil fuels: Fueled by hydraulic fracturing technology, Pennsylvania has become second only to Texas in the production of natural gas in the United States. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the state produced nearly 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2019, while Texas produced just under 9 trillion cubic feet.