Regulators confident in TMI decommissioning plan despite remaining nuclear waste


MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting Tuesday to share the decommission plans for TMI Unit 1, which is set to go offline by the end of September.

If approved, Exelon – the owner of Unit 1 – will use a process called SAFSTOR, where nuclear waste will be stored until 2073. At that point, there would be a period of preparation until dismantling can begin in September 2079.

The NRC is responsible for verifying that controls and methods for safe storage of radioactive material are in accordance with regulations and licensing.

“Right now, we have two full-time inspectors at the plant. Once the plant shuts down, we will still have an inspection presence, but we don’t need somebody on site [full-time],” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “We would have to make sure that [Exelon is] continuing to monitor the plant properly, make sure that the spent fuel is properly being care for, and that’s something that’ll be ongoing.”

Sheehan said that once the plant is shut down, the focus will shift from active-plant risks (like working to contain leaking radioactive steam) to closed-plant risks (like monitoring pools of spent fuel).

“They would have to make sure that there’s never a risk of that pool draining and that fuel becoming exposed,” Sheehan said.

But many are concerned about exposure to the radioactive material that will be left behind.

“The key thing here is to move the waste from the site. Why leave the waste in the middle of the Susquehanna River?” asked Gene Stilp, an activist and long-time critic of TMI. “It’s insane to keep the waste on the river for any period of time.”

“Exelon would like to mothball the plant until 2075. That’s unacceptable. The plant should be cleaned up now. TMI 2 is still not cleaned up,” said Three Mile Island Alert’s Eric Epstein, who is against using taxpayer money for any part of the decommissioning process. “Clean the plant up immediately, and Exelon, use your own monies to clean up the mess that you created.”

While some are concerned about nuclear waste, others are worried about what the loss of industry and hundreds of jobs will mean to the surrounding region.

“Every year, [Exelon has] raised a significant amount of money to help our first responders, which goes to our fire company,” said Anna Dale, chairwoman of the Londonderry Township Board of Supervisors, adding that many families might have to relocate. “Taking kids out of school, finding new homes, finding new jobs, and there are not a lot of those kind of jobs in central Pennsylvania.”

Once Unit 1 goes offline, spent fuel will be stored on-site in large pools for several years before being moved to “dry cask storage” in 2022.

At that time, spent fuel will be moved to large metal and concrete canisters in an on-site storage facility that Exelon says will be very secure and impervious to weather and fire.

The facility will be built to withstand a 100-year flood, according to the company, which has asked to use the Decommissioning Trust Fund to pay for storage; that’s a common practice across the industry, according to Exelon.

The entire cost of decommissioning, Exelon estimates, will run about $1.2 billion.

Last week, during a webinar about the decommissioning plans, Exelon sent abc27 a statement regarding requests for decreased emergency response plans once the plant is shut down. That statement is below:

On April 5, 2019, Exelon Generation filed the federally required Post Shutdown Decommission Activities Report (PSDAR), which details plans for Three Mile Island after its final shutdown, including the method selected for decommissioning and the schedule to dismantle large components, including the station’s cooling towers.

While we continue to operate Three Mile Island Unit 1 safely and at industry-leading levels until the planned shutdown on Sept. 20, we also are working actively on our responsibility to prepare the plant, along with the local community and our employees, for decommissioning after shutdown. With the upcoming shutdown of Three Mile Island Unit 1, we requested a change to the station’s emergency plan to reflect site conditions after shutdown, consistent with industry practice. The safety of our employees and the public is and always will be our top priority.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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