Nuclear plants dip into dismantling funds to pay for waste
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — With a federal promise to take highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear plants still unfulfilled, closed reactors are dipping into funds set aside for their eventual dismantling to build waste storage on-site, raising questions about whether there will be enough money when the time comes.
It violates Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules for the plants to take money from their decommissioning trust funds to pay for building the concrete pads and rows of concrete and steel casks where waste is stored after it is cooled in special storage pools. But the NRC is granting exemptions from those rules every time it is asked.
“All of the plants that have permanently shut down in recent years have sought, and been approved for, the use of decommissioning funds for spent fuel storage costs,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan wrote in an email in response to questions from The Associated Press this past week.
These include the Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin, San Onofre 1 and 2 in California, Crystal River 3 in Florida, and Vermont Yankee in Vernon, in Vermont’s southeast corner, which closed at the end of last year. The Zion 1 and 2 reactors in Illinois, which shut down in the late 1990s, had gotten a similar OK to use decommissioning money for spent fuel storage, Sheehan said.
Ratepayers chipped in during nuclear plants’ lives to set aside the money it would take eventually to tear down reactors, remove their radioactive components and restore the sites. It was not envisioned they also would have to pay for indefinite storage of spent fuel on the roughly 100 nuclear plant sites around the country.
And long-term, on-site storage of nuclear waste is a bad idea, said Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive turned consultant who frequently criticizes the industry.