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NRC Says Plant Operators Have Adequate Decommissioning Funds

Oct. 31, 2013—The NRC has found that the nation’s commercial reactor operators have adequate funds for decommissioning their facilities and that the agency’s formula for estimating decommissioning costs is accurate.

NRC staff noted in its biennial summary report (SECY-13-0105) that as of Dec.31, 2012, 100 of the 104 operating reactor licensees had provided the full amount of decommissioning funding assurance, while the remaining four had “provided information to resolve their [decommissioning funding] shortfalls.”    

“Based on the information provided by the licensees in the 2013 decommissioning funding status reports, licensees either did not have shortfalls as of December 31, 2012, or resolved the shortfalls,” the NRC staff said, noting that the total amount accumulated by all licensees, $45.7 billion, represents a 13 percent increase from two years earlier. Licensees typically accumulate the money over time through trust fund investments.

Another paper in June (SECY-13-0066) said the NRC staff is satisfied with the adequacy of the funding formula used to determine the required level of decommissioning funding.

“The formula … successfully establishes a common minimum standard measurement, or reference level, to which each licensee must accumulate committed financial resources during the life of the operating license as it was intended,” the June paper said.

“NRC staff does not recommend revising the [reactor decommissioning] formula.”

The formula (which takes inflation into account), site-specific decommissioning cost estimates and other requirements provide the agency with assurance that decommissioning activities will be adequately funded.

“These requirements along with the requirements for reporting decommissioning funding to the NRC provide a robust program to assure that licensees will have adequate funds available for decommissioning,” the paper said.

Last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the formula the NRC uses to determine decommissioning costs for nuclear reactors may not give reliable estimates and recommended that the agency strengthen its procedures (see Nuclear Energy Overview, May 10, 2012). In response, the NRC said it partially agreed with the GAO’s recommendation but added that the NRC’s formula already “achieves all the characteristics recommended by GAO.”

Ralph Andersen, NEI’s senior director for radiation safety and environmental protection, said the NRC staff papers, taken together, demonstrate that nuclear energy facilities have adequate resources for decommissioning.

“These two papers show that the agency has a robust, credible regulatory framework for decommissioning funding and that our plants are prepared financially to carry out decommissioning when the time comes,” Andersen said.