Eric Epstein: Three Mile Island cleanup must be fully funded

Eric Epstein

ERIC EPSTEIN | Saturday, December 26, 2020 7:00 p.m.


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently granted approval for the transfer of the license of Three Mile Island Unit-2 (TMI-2) from FirstEnergy, a public utility, to TMI-2 Solutions, a limited liability corporation based in Utah. The NRC approved the license transfer without holding a hearing. TMI-Alert speaks in opposition to such a move.

Why should you be concerned about the transfer of a license from a damaged nuclear power plant? The reality is that there is not enough money to clean up Three Mile Island. Any shortfall will require a bailout from Pennsylvania taxpayers. TMI’s underfunded cleanup fund should serve as a cautionary tale for taxpayers in Western Pennsylvania.

Three Mile Island Unit-2 was built at a cost to ratepayers of $700 million. The plant was over budget and behind schedule. The planned operating life of the plant was 40 years. At the time of the core melt accident on March 28, 1979, TMI had operated for just 90 days. There were no decommissioning funds set aside.

In 1982, Gov. Richard Thornburgh cobbled together a $1 billion fund to pay for the removal of the damaged fuel. But funding problems did not go away.

Following the accident at TMI-2 , the NRC created the TMI-2 Advisory Panel. The Advisory Panel met 78 times in the vicinity of TMI-2, and met regularly with NRC commissioners. Inadequate funding for TMI-2’s future closure was a constant concern expressed by the advisory panel.

These concerns have become reality. On March 26, 2018, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated the decommissioning price tag for TMI-2 to be $1.266 billion. The cost to clean up TMI-2, based on FirstEnergy’s most recent estimates, is $1.4 billion. That amount doesn’t cover the cost to remove radio­active waste from the island.

The NRC recently granted FirstEnergy approval, without a hearing, to transfer TMI-2’s license. The new owner, TMI-2 Solutions, is a limited liability corporation from Utah with no assets. The problem remains the same, except the underfunded cleanup plan has been handed off from a public utility to a private venture.

There is approximately $900 million in the cleanup fund, which is $500 million less than is needed to get the job done. Still, in defiance of logic, the NRC granted the license transfer to TMI-2 Solutions. What happens if TMI-2 Solutions runs out of money? You can bet it will not be a limited liability company picking up the tab.

Regardless of anyone’s position on nuclear power, or party affiliation, funding should be in place to accomplish a complete cleanup, and ensure removal of high-level radioactive waste from Three Mile Island.

The TMI cleanup funding dilemma is a warning for taxpayers in Western Pennsylvania. Beaver Valley Nuclear Station, like TMI-2, was owned by FirstEnergy.

In 2018, FirstEnergy Solutions filed for bankruptcy and announced it would deactivate Beaver Valley. In bankruptcy documents filed in 2019, FirstEnergy estimated it would cost $380 million to decommission Unit 1, and an additional $367 million to decommission Unit 2.

Beaver Valley was on the verge of closing in 2021. Its new owner, Energy Harbor, emerged out of the FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy. 

What’s next? Who pays to clean up Beaver Valley when the decommissioning funds come up short?

Eric Epstein is chairman of Three Mile Island Alert Inc. (

Subject:  Peach Bottom Units 2 and 3 - Request for Additional Information - TSTF-505 (EPID L-2019-LLA-0120)

ADAMS Accession No. ML20357A097
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: 20-061 December 22, 2020
CONTACT: Office of Public Affairs, 301-415-8200
NRC Names Mirela Gavrilas Director, Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today announced the appointment of Mirela Gavrilas as director, Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response, effective with the retirement of Brian Holian on Dec. 31, 2020.
Gavrilas, who joined the NRC in 2004 as a reactor systems engineer in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Research, currently serves as the deputy office director for Reactor Safety Programs and Mission Support in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. She is recognized for her many accomplishments, including the review of the construction permit for the SHINE Medical Technologies facilities, leading the development of the agency’s accident tolerant fuel plan and modernizing NRR’s workload management processes and metrics.
She has held several senior management positions in NRR, including serving as deputy director, Division of Policy and Rulemaking; deputy director, Division of Risk Assessment; and director, Division of Safety Systems. She also has expertise in international risk assessment and safety analysis.
Prior to joining the NRC, she served on the University of Maryland faculty, having led the first Nuclear Energy Agency/Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development international standard problem for computation fluid mechanics.
Gavrilas earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a graduate of NRC’s 2014 Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program.
Subject:  12/15/2020 Summary of Meeting with Exelon Generation Company, LLC Regarding a Planned Request for an Exemption to Reduce the Frequency of Updates to Its Inservice Testing and Inspection Programs (EPID L-2020-LRM-0089)
ADAMS Accession No.:  ML20351A283
In the Matter of:
GPU NUCLEAR, INC., METROPOLITAN EDISON                 Docket No. 50-320-LT
SOLUTIONS, LLC                                                                    December 18, 2020
(Three Mile Island Nuclear Station, Unit 2)
Re: Notification of Closing of TMI-2 Transaction
Opinion: Three Mile Island Cleanup Needs to be Fully Funded
Dear Editor:
We are writing in regard to the recent announcement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(“NRC)” to grant approval, without a hearing, to FirstEnergy to transfer TMI-2’s license to Energy
Solutions, a limited liability corporation from Utah with no assets. We speak in opposition to such a
Before explaining our concerns, let us tell you a little about the writers.
Eric Epstein became involved with Three Mile Island issues in December 1982 after he
returned home from college. He was 23, and joined the Susquehanna Valley Alliance. Epstein has
been the spokesperson or Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert since 1984. TMI-Alert, a safe-energy
organization founded in 1977, monitors the Peach Bottom, Three-Mile Island and Susquehanna
nuclear power plants. Mr. Epstein has conducted research and provided testimony relating to
decommissioning, decontamination, and emergency planning before the NRC. He attended many of
the TMI Advisory Panel meetings.
Read more

"How to do Independent Monitoring at Nuclear Power Plants" with Mr. Eric Epstein​​​​​​​

Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, Units 2 and 3 - Emergency Preparedness Biennial Exercise Inspection Report 05000277/2020501 and 05000278/2020501
ADAMS Accession No.  ML20352A174
Subject: Exelon Generation Company, LLC -Alternative Request for Documentation of Replacement of Pressure Retaining Bolting
ADAMS Accession No. ML20350B558