Where Have all the Decommissioning Funds Gone?

TAKOMA PARK, MD - As Beyond Nuclear reported in its top story today (see the economic collapse raises the question about whether nuclear reactors will still have sufficient funds to decommission, given these monies were invested in the20stock market. Today, Entergy Nuclear, the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear power station, reported that it has indeed lost 10% of decommissioning funds ($40 million) in just the last month.
"This begs the question about what is happening to the decommissioning funds at the remaining nuclear power plant sites in the US," said Paul Gunter, director of reactor oversight at Beyond Nuclear. "Every community close to a nuclear reactor should demand to know the status and losses in the decommissioning funds with Wall Street's freefall," he said. "Nuclear power reactors are rapidly losing money needed to eventually clean up these radioactive hulks. The fact that there are insufficient funds to clean u p the sites might result in billions of dollars more in federal bailouts to protect public health.

"The current economic depression also raises a public safety concern at operational nuclear reactors. When a reactor identifies a significant safety problem requiring an unscheduled and extended outage for inspection and repairs, the owners typically borrow the funds for expensive replacement power purchases," Gunter continued.

"Tighter lending or even a len ding freeze can deter owners from an unscheduled and early shutdown. It would not be the first time they instead hide the need for repairs and gamble with public safety," he said.

Industry and federal regulators have already been caught gambling production and financial margins against public safety margins at reactors like the Davis-Besse nuclear station near Toledo, Ohio. Industry and regulatory neglect and avoidance of an early unscheduled shutdown in December 2001 resulted in a near-miss accident and cost FirstEnergy Nuclear more than $605 million over a two year shutdown for repairs and replacement power.

"Where this inherently dangerous industry's profit motive is jeopardized public safety is potentially compromised," Gunter warned.

Decommissioning costs can be high - at least $500 million to $800 million per reactor - and are still rising with inflation. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimated a one trillion dollar price tag in 1998 to decommission all the world's nuclear installations, both military and civilian. But according to an October 2, 2008 story in Le Monde that figure has likely risen higher. Any funds invested could swiftly evaporate as the global economic crisis worsens.

For more information call: Linda Gunter, Beyond Nuclear media director, 301.270.2209 ext. 2 (o) or 301.455.5655 (cell.)