Should the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station be required to pay an annual $25 million decommissioning fee?
State representative, Plymouth Republican
The Commonwealth’s only nuclear power plant, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, is in my legislative district in Plymouth. Since it opened in 1972, the plant has created hundreds of jobs and boosted the local economy, contributing to the significant population growth in Plymouth County. When the plant owner in 2015 first announced plans to shut it down, many people in our community began to ask questions about the decommissioning process. I am sure that after it closes in 2019, the owner will decommission the plant safely, but there is no incentive to ensure that process is done efficiently.
I filed legislation to create a nuclear power station post-closure trust fund. The owner of Pilgrim -- currently Entergy -- would be required to pay an annual $25 million fee if decommissioning is not complete within five years of the time the plant ceases to generate power. The creation of the fund, to be controlled by the state treasurer, would ensure that safety and efficiency are maintained during decommissioning and that the Commonwealth will not be required to pay should decommissioning take longer than intended.
Even if the current owner stays on board until the facility has been fully decommissioned, there is no legal requirement for it to do so. The company is free to sell the plant or allow the decommissioning to be carried out by a third party, potentially leaving Plymouth to shoulder the cost.
Establishing the trust fund would also ensure that the spent fuel rods still on site are properly handled post-closure. After decommissioning is complete, there is hope that the property can be used for industrial, green-energy initiatives, and many other economic drivers. There are fail-safes with the legislation. The fund will only be used for post-closure activities to support full decommissioning of the plant. As soon as the facility has been fully decommissioned and inspected by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the balance of the trust fund would be returned to the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. Whoever the owner may be during the decommissioning process should be required to pay the annual $25 million fee.
Vice president for external affairs for Entergy, which owns the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station
The Legislature is considering a bill to impose a $25 million annual fee on Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station if it fails to complete decommissioning within five years of permanent shutdown. The legislation should be rejected because it is inconsistent with federal law, imposes an unrealistic timeline that ignores important technical and safety considerations, and fails to acknowledge that there is no federal repository for spent nuclear fuel.
Under federal law, the radiological decommissioning of a nuclear power plant falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Commonwealth is prohibited from regulating the decommissioning of a nuclear site, including the imposition of the types of financial requirements included in the bill. State laws similar to this legislation have been struck down in the past. From a practical perspective, passage of the bill would lead to years of litigation rather than earlier decommissioning.
Moreover, the bill entirely disregards the technical, operational, and safety requirements that determine the timeline for decommissioning. No commercial nuclear plant in the United States has been decommissioned within the arbitrary five-year timeline the bill proposes. According to information from the NRC, for plants comparable to Pilgrim, the average time from permanent shutdown to the completion of major decommissioning work has been just over 12 years. The other nuclear plant in Massachusetts -- Yankee Rowe -- ceased operations in 1992 and did not complete major decommissioning work until 15 years later in 2007. The Commonwealth should not attempt to pressure Pilgrim into an unrealistic -- and potentially unsafe -- schedule for decommissioning.
Finally, the bill defines “decommissioning” to include “removing the nuclear fuel ... from the site.” Pilgrim, however, cannot remove fuel from the site until there is a federal repository (such as at Yucca Mountain in Nevada) to which the fuel can be moved. The opening of such a repository is not within Pilgrim’s control and there is no realistic chance that such a repository will be in operation within five years of Pilgrim’s scheduled 2019 shutdown. Thus, the bill would establish a punitive financial regime that would do nothing to accelerate the decommissioning of Pilgrim.
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