Principles for Successful Reactor Decommissioning
What is important in Decommissioning?
Vermont Yankee: Slow and Thorough Decommissioning Should Focus on Safety and Accountability
Decommissioning: How Dirty Can Cleanup Get?
Since 1992, four of the nine nuclear reactors in New England closed. Poor economics, age-related deterioration, and sustainable solutions will shut the remaining five. Decommissioning, the process of "cleaning up" reactor sites is becoming an issue throughout the region. Precedents governing future decommissionings developed in New England. CAN's experience is that site cleanup is a dangerous process full of pitfalls aimed at saving corporate money rather than cleaning contaminated sites.
The Yankee Rowe reactor's experimental decommissioning forced the downstream community to question how reactors decommission and how corporations dispose of waste. It raised ethical questions involving pollution prevention and reduction, site remediation and environmental justice. Since standard reactor operation releases rad waste routinely into the environment and stores its high level waste on site, the community, itself is a de facto waste dump.
Citizens in the contamination pathway of reactors must protect themselves and the environment from the effects of exposure to radiation and develop strategies to prevent and eliminate nuclear pollution.
Communities that suffer nuclear contamination are usually poor, rural and people of color. It is unacceptable for people to choose between short-term economic survival and the sacrifice of future generations.
As the first, Yankee Atomic's illegal decommissioning set dangerous standards-standards that undermine the democratic process guaranteed under the Atomic Energy Act, undermine EPA regulations governing the National Environmental Policy Act and create de facto deregulation of the industry for decommissioning and rad waste. Corporate revision of regulations forced continual relaxation of standards and undermined and degraded NRC's accountability as the protectors of the public health and safety.
With Yankee Rowe as the standard, there is no distinction between reactor operation and cessation and therefore regulations developed for operating reactors (when on-site resident inspectors and NRC inspections are routine) were cobbled on to decommissioning processes in which inspection is scanty and discretionary. No adjudicatory hearings are available to impacted communities. NRC oversight is curtailed since NRC decided that decommissioning is no longer a major federal action. Therefore EPA requirements are ignored.
Nuclear corporations now submit generalized plans providing no detailed description of specific activities. The choice of decommissioning option is determined by the operator without input from the community. Reactors are stripped, transported and dumped in another community without adequate public or regulatory oversight. "Community Advisory Boards" orchestrated, established, and run by corporations, have functioned as public relations arms and substitute for adjudicatory hearings.
We CAN Do Better!
Rancho Seco, a California reactor owned by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and shut by referendum, did not have adequate decommissioning funding. SMUD chose a slow and thorough cleanup employing the skilled workforce and replacing the power with sustainable energy solutions as well as conservation and efficiency. SMUD is the 6th largest public utility in the country. It is an excellent example of what can be done.