In a prerecorded video speech to last week’s Decommissioning Strategy Forum in Summerlin, Nev., Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner David Wright addressed public concerns about the growing number of utilities transferring their nuclear power reactor licenses to outside companies for accelerated decontamination and decommissioning after plant closure.
“While the NRC’s reactor decommissioning financial assurance program considers the potential for non-utility companies to conduct decommissioning, we have heard concerns about the use of these new license transfer models, given the significant acceleration of decommissioning schedules and withdrawals from decommissioning trust funds,” Wright said in his November 1 speech.
No regulatory gaps: To address these concerns, Wright said that the NRC has formed a working group to evaluate potential risks posed by the new license transfer models, including mechanisms meant to ensure adequate decommissioning funding. Wright noted that agency staff issued a report in May 2020 that concluded that there are “no regulatory gaps or policy issues related to the use of these new models.”
Wright added, however, that the staff identified nine enhancements to the NRC’s inspection and training programs to make the financial assurance process more consistent and efficient for power reactors undergoing decommissioning.
“These changes are intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of the program going forward,” Wright said, adding that the agency has also updated its internal guidance documents to incorporate lessons learned from recently completed decontamination and decommissioning activities.
Growing D&D fleet: In recent years, the NRC has approved the transfer of a number of reactor licenses to decommissioning companies. This includes the transfer of Indian Point, Pilgrim, and Palisades to Holtec International; Vermont Yankee and Crystal River-3 to Accelerated Decommissioning Partners; and Three Mile Island Unit 2 to EnergySolutions, which is also under contract to decommission the San Onofre and Fort Calhoun power reactors.
In many cases, the plants have moved from the NRC’s SAFSTOR status, under which decommissioning is delayed for up to 60 years, to an accelerated decommissioning schedule of 10 years or less.
Decommissioning rule: Wright also addressed the NRC’s proposed decommissioning rule, which the commission approved on November 3 and is awaiting publication in the Federal Register.
Wright said that the rulemaking “represents the culmination of many years of hard work by the [NRC] staff to address a set of complex issues cutting across multiple disciplines, including emergency preparedness, physical security, decommissioning funding assurance, environmental considerations, and license termination plan performance.”
Wright noted that the public is not always clear on the reduced risk posed by shut down and defueled nuclear power plants, and therefore, the NRC’s license exemption process for power reactors transitioning to decommissioning may make them uncomfortable. The new rule, he said, will provide a more efficient decommissioning process and support the NRC’s principles of good regulation by amending the agency’s license exemption and amendment requirements.