Our Technical Assistance for Nuclear Communities team has spent the last few months speaking to a variety of communities who host nuclear power plants to navigate the process of closing down and chart a sustainable economic future. Here’s a short summary of what we’re learning from Jim Hamilton, who runs the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative, which is part of our team.
The operational status of the plants in the communities we’ve been speaking to runs the gamut: from stations that have long since closed to those that will be closing soon or perhaps not for decades into the future. To support these nuclear host communities, our efforts through this program include resiliency planning, workforce development and the creation of economic diversification strategies.
While each host community has its own unique set of circumstances, obstacles and opportunities, we are seeing some patterns emerge.
Our assistance is intended to build community capacity and strengthen resiliency
The services we are providing to local communities generally fall into three categories. The first two, planning and evaluation/analysis are available at no cost to host communities under our existing Cooperative Agreement with the Economic Development Administration (EDA). As action/implementation efforts are more substantial in scope, these may be undertaken with additional support from EDA available through the Nuclear Closure Communities grant program.
We assist communities just getting started on their resiliency journey. In this stage, our services focus on establishing baseline information such as modeling the economic relationship between the plant and the surrounding region. We also provide first-hand knowledge about what to expect during the decommissioning process and how local communities may work to influence outcomes. We find that the best planning comes from a solid understanding of the fundamentals.
Evaluation / Analysis
With the basics in place, we help host communities evaluate and analyze a variety of economic development scenarios. We help communities model the impacts of plant closure and create various strategies to mitigate closure-related job loss. Development of mitigation and resiliency strategies can begin before, during or after plant closure but we often find that early planning, wherever possible, is a community’s best approach.
Implementation plans build upon good planning and analysis. These can range from the implementation of economic resiliency programs to more substantive infrastructure projects targeted at mitigating the impacts of plant closure.
The conversation over economic subsidies for nuclear power is heating up
Most recently, PSEG announced that without $300 million in ratepayer support over three years, it would choose to close its Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants in New Jersey. The fate of this subsidy, and by association the continued operation of Salem and Hope Creek, is before New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities with a decision expected in late April.
Similar conversations are playing out in Ohio. In early March, the state Senate was unanimous in its vote to repeal the nearly $1 billion in nuclear subsidies that were to have been spent to support the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants. On March 10th, the state House voted to repeal the subsidies. The direct impact of these decisions on the continued operation of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants remains to be seen.
In Illinois, we see increased attention paid to the potential near-term closure of one or more of Exelon’s nuclear power plants. In particular, Byron, Dresden, Clinton and Quad Cities have, over recent years, been threatened with closure and various legislative initiatives have been offered to support their continued operation. While no official shut-down dates have been confirmed, many in the region see one or more closure announcements taking place in the coming months.
The difficult question of spent nuclear fuel
The spent nuclear fuel generated from a plant’s operation has long been a burden to host communities. To be clear, the federal government is responsible for finding a permanent solution to this problem, and to date, they have come up short. As a result, over 80,000 tons of this fuel remains stranded at nuclear power plants across the country. This stranded fuel causes particular harm for communities that host decommissioned plants as economic development plans remain hindered by the ongoing presence of tons of nuclear waste.
As for emerging efforts to store and/or dispose of this waste, the future is far from certain and it is not unreasonable to expect that many communities will continue to host spent nuclear fuel for years if not decades into the future. In that context, we are seeing host communities begin to play an increasing role in advocating for action in the spent fuel arena.
Earlier efforts included federal legislative attempts (for instance, The STRANDED Act) but these have failed to gain traction. Now, host communities are beginning to act independently. We briefly highlight two cases in this newsletter.
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is undergoing active decommissioning and is the home to 700 tons of spent nuclear fuel. In December of 2020, the plant’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) formed a Federal Nuclear Waste Policy Committee to more fully examine the issue of spent nuclear fuel management. The Committee will develop recommendations on US nuclear waste policies for NDCAP to consider.
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) ceased operations in 2013 and the plant site hosts 1,600 tons of spent nuclear fuel. In 2017, under a settlement agreement, the plant’s ownership agreed to prepare a strategic plan to explore alternatives for relocating SONGS spent fuel to an off-site facility. That strategic plan was released on March 15, 2021.
As more nuclear power plants close, and as the profile of this issue increases, it is reasonable to expect that host communities will begin to leverage their growing influence and seek renewed action from the federal government to solve the nuclear waste disposal problem.
As we continue to support nuclear host communities by helping build capacity and developing resiliency plans, we are gathering a wealth of information and perspectives. We will continue to offer deeper dives on more specific topics that we hope will better equip community stakeholders to strengthen their economic futures.Sign up for our monthly newsletter on this topic