Three Mile Island-2: Still Waiting to Be Cleaned Up 40 Years Later

Three Mile Island Unit-2 was built at a cost to rate payers of $700 million and had been on-line for just 90 days, or 1/120 of its expected operating life, at the time of the core melt accident on March 28, 1979 . One billion dollars from rate payers, taxpayers and the nuclear industry was spent to defuel the facility.
A mere three months of nuclear power production at TMI-2 has cost close to $2 billion dollars in construction and cleanup bills; or the equivalent of over $10.6  million for every day TMI-2 produced electricity. The above mentioned costs do not include nuclear decontamination and decommissioning or restoring the site to “Greenfield.” The cost is estimated to be $1.26 billion dollars by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission  (“NRC”) in 2018 and will be borne entirely by rate payers and tax payers.
At the time of the accident, TMI’s owners had no monies put aside for decommissioning.  General Public Utilities’ (“GPU”) customers contributed three times as much for the defueling effort than the corporation that caused the disaster, i.e. $246 to $82 million (GPU Nuclear Press Release, January 10, 1985). In January 1993 the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) refused GPU’s request to hand their customers the TMI-2 decommissioning bill estimated to be at least $200 million.
However, several months later the PUC reversed itself and gave GPU permission to pass the cost of decontamination and decommissioning TMI-2 onto the rate payer. This decision to financially assess GPU rate payers for the accident was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In 1995, GPU hired a consultant to conduct a site-specific decommissioning study for TMI-2. The “retirement costs” for TMI-2 were estimated to be $399 million for radiological decommissioning and $34 million for non-radiological removal. (GPU, 1997 Annual Report, Nuclear Plant Retirement Costs, p. 52.)
Although the plant was scheduled to be decontaminated and decommissioned in 2014, a twenty-year license extension was granted to Three Mile Island-1 in 2009, and pushed the start date of decommissioning   back to at least 2034 - 55 years after the loss of coolant accident.
Cleanup problems at TMI-2

In July 1980, Met Ed (GPU) vented 43,000 curies of radioactive Krypton-85, and other radioactive gasses directly into the atmosphere. TMI-2 was designed to release approximately 770 curies of Krypton-85 a year. Four months later in November 1980, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the krypton venting was illegal.

On August 12, 1982, cleanup worker William Pennsyl was fired for insisting he be allowed to wear a respirator while undressing men who entered highly radioactive areas. Pennsyl filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, and on April 11, 1984, settled out of court  two days before an administrative law judge was scheduled to hear his case.

On March 22, 1983, TMI-2 senior-safety, startup engineer Richard Parks publicly charged GPU and Bechtel Corporation with deliberately circumventing safety procedures, and harassing him and other workers for reporting safety violations. Parks filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. On August 12, 1985, GPU and Bechtel were fined $64,000 for the incident by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

From July 24-27, 1984, during the reactor head lift, which was delayed due to brake failure on the polar crane, GPU vented radioactive gasses into the atmosphere. The venting occurred despite pledges by GPU and the NRC that no radioactive releases would take place during the head lift operation. GPU was fined $40,000 for the violation by the NRC.

In May 1987, a non-licensed plant employee was suspended after he was found sleeping in the radioactive waste control room. Two months later, ten employees working at TMI-1 and TMI-2 tested positive for drugs; 8 individuals were suspended for 30 days without pay and one resigned. Thirty three people were arrested in all. Since March 1986, 16 employees tested positive for drugs at TMI.

On December 1, 1987, GPU announced the firing of a shift supervisor for sleeping on the job. Although the employee had a record of sleeping on the job dating back to the early 1980s, GPU did not issue a warning until October 1986. Edwin Stier, former director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, reported that 21 witnesses saw the shift supervisor asleep on the job.

In December 1990, GPU began evaporating 2.3 million gallons of accident-generated radioactive water (AGW) into the atmosphere. In April-May 1991, the evaporator was shut down for most of  this period so GPU could “rewrite the main operating procedure.” A Notice of Violation was issued by the NRC. In January 1993, GPU “discovered” they failed to take periodic samples of approximately 221,000 gallons of AGW in the borated water storage tank. Evaporation was completed in August 1993; six months behind schedule.

In August 1993, Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Nuclear Physics, City University of New York, evaluated studies conducted or commissioned by GPU and the NRC on the amount  of fuel left in TMI-2. Dr. Kaku concluded, “ It appears that every few months, since 1990, a new estimate is made of core debris, often with little relationship to the previous estimate...estimates range from 608.8 kg to 1,322 kg...This is rather unsettling...The still unanswered questions are therefore: precisely how much uranium is left in the core, and how much uranium can collect in the bottom of the reactor to initiate re-criticality.”

In February, 1997 , GPU announced in 1997 Annual Report  that the cost to decommission TMI-2 doubled in four years. The original $200 million projection has been increased to $399 million for radioactive decommissioning. An additional $34 million will be needed for non-radiological decommissioning. The new funding “target” is $433 million; or a 110% increase in just 48 months.

On July 21, 1999, GPU Nuclear received permission form the NRC to reduce the insurance at TMI-2 from $1.06 billion to $50 million.

On December 20, 1999, TMI-’2s license was transferred from GPU Nuclear to AmerGen. TMI-2 remains a GPU possession in placed in Post-Defueling Monitored Storage in 1992. GPU contracts with AmerGen to maintain a skeletal staff presence at TMI-2.

In November, 2001, TMI-2 was formally transferred from GPU Nuclear to FirstEnergy. GPU Nuclear retains the license for TMI-2 and is owned by FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company.

• 2053 - Cost and date of TMI-2 decommissioning?
“Press & Journal,” Dan Miller
•  March 28, 2018. Price tag: $1.266 billion from 2018 to 2053, according to an analysis released March 26 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“The analysis released by the NRC is an update provided by GPU Nuclear regarding the status of Unit 2’s decommissioning trust fund. GPU Nuclear is a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. While Exelon owns the functioning part of the nuclear facility, GPU Nuclear still owns Unit 2 and contracts its monitoring to Exelon.”
“During the years 2018 through 2039, GPU is continuing to wait until radioactive decay levels “decrease sufficiently” at Unit 2 “to allow for a more effective clean up of the facility,” Sheehan said. After the March 1979 accident, a cleanup was undertaken of Unit 2, with damaged high-level fuel from the reactor sent to a facility in Idaho where the fuel remains stored in dry casks today...”
“Since the accident, GPU has been only monitoring and maintaining security at Unit 2. That will remain the case until 2040 when the physical process of decommissioning and tearing down the stricken reactor can begin, according to the GPU trust fund update.”