New York Wonders Where Nuclear Cleanup Funds Would Come from

Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 25, 2013, 4:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Who — and what pot of money — would drive cleanup after a severe nuc­le­ar-power-plant in­cid­ent is a ques­tion still left un­answered by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, New York state of­fi­cials say in a re­cent leg­al fil­ing with the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion.

Un­der the Price-An­der­son Act, which Con­gress first passed in 1957 and has re­newed sev­er­al times since, the nuc­le­ar-power in­dustry’s li­ab­il­ity in the event of a cata­strophe at one of its fa­cil­it­ies is lim­ited. The in­dustry pays in­to an in­sur­ance ac­count — which NRC of­fi­cials say has a cur­rent value of $12 bil­lion — that would be used to com­pensate the pub­lic for vari­ous dam­ages in­curred as the res­ult of an in­cid­ent. Those costs could be re­lated to hotel stays, lost wages and prop­erty re­place­ment.

However, how ac­tu­al cleanup of the con­tam­in­ated area sur­round­ing a com­prom­ised fa­cil­ity would be paid for re­mains un­clear, the New York state at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s of­fice notes in the Sept. 13 fil­ing with the com­mis­sion. In 2009, NRC of­fi­cials in­formed their coun­ter­parts at the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment and the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency that the Price-An­der­son money likely would not be avail­able to pay for off­s­ite cleanup — a rev­el­a­tion made pub­lic a year later when in­tern­al EPA doc­u­ments were re­leased un­der the Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act.

An­oth­er three years have gone by and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has yet to provide a clear an­swer, the New York AG of­fice says. Last year, NRC Com­mis­sion­er Wil­li­am Mag­wood ac­know­ledged in a present­a­tion to the Health Phys­ics So­ci­ety that “[t]here is no reg­u­lat­ory frame­work for en­vir­on­ment­al res­tor­a­tion fol­low­ing a ma­jor ra­di­olo­gic­al re­lease.”

Mag­wood’s present­a­tion touched on the fact that it is not only the is­sue of where the money would come from and which agency would take charge, but also how that fed­er­al en­tity would define “clean.” En­vir­on­ment­al­ists, along with some EPA and state of­fi­cials, have ar­gued that EPA Su­per­fund pro­tocol — un­der which a site is con­sidered clean when no more than one in 10,000 people would be ex­pec­ted to de­vel­op can­cer from ex­pos­ure to re­sid­ual con­tam­in­a­tion — should ap­ply in such a situ­ation.

NRC of­fi­cials have ar­gued the Su­per­fund law was not in­ten­ded for this pur­pose, a po­s­i­tion Mag­wood re­it­er­ated in his present­a­tion. In­dustry, mean­while, backs sug­ges­tions in a new EPA nuc­le­ar-re­sponse guide that it might not be feas­ible to clean up to Su­per­fund stand­ards.

Then-Rep­res­ent­at­ive Ed­ward Mar­key (D-Mass.), now a U.S. sen­at­or, pressed Pres­id­ent Obama on the is­sue fol­low­ing the on­set of the Fukushi­ma crisis in Ja­pan in 2011. Steven Chu, then the En­ergy sec­ret­ary, re­spon­ded on be­half of the pres­id­ent, say­ing that Su­per­fund law con­tained an ex­emp­tion for cer­tain ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als covered by the Price-An­der­son Act that could pre­vent the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency from re­spond­ing to such an in­cid­ent in its usu­al way.

“If such a re­lease were de­term­ined to con­sist of only these spe­cified ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als (i.e., no com­ming­ling with oth­er [Su­per­fund]-reg­u­lated haz­ard­ous sub­stances), than the [Su­per­fund] ex­clu­sion could lim­it EPA’s re­sponse au­thor­ity,” Chu said in a Ju­ly 2011 let­ter to Mar­key. Nor­mally, the agency can sue com­pan­ies re­spons­ible for pol­lu­tion un­der the Su­per­fund law.

While the rel­ev­ant re­quire­ments for how thor­ough a cleanup must be are ob­vi­ously a factor in de­term­in­ing how much it would cost, there con­tin­ues to be con­fu­sion over the is­sue of where funds would come from. The Illinois Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, for in­stance, as­sumes in Sept. 13 com­ments on the new EPA re­sponse guide that “a rev­en­ue is stream is in place” to pay for cleanup and waste dis­pos­al after a nuc­le­ar-power-plant in­cid­ent — des­pite the NRC state­ments to the con­trary.

New York of­fi­cials sug­gest the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should re­solve the is­sue be­fore the com­mis­sion re­news li­censes for the In­di­an Point nuc­le­ar power plant, loc­ated just north of New York City.

Based on what has come to light so far, it is “not clear that NRC has the de­sire, cap­ab­il­ity, or fin­an­cial re­sources to re­spond to a severe ac­ci­dent at In­di­an Point and en­sure the thor­ough de­con­tam­in­a­tion of the New York met­ro­pol­it­an area in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, its wa­ter sources — and drink­ing wa­ter sources — in the wake of such an ac­ci­dent,” the state’s AG of­fice says.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sept. 13 fil­ing in the In­di­an Point li­cense-re­new­al pro­ceed­ings, the state — which is chal­len­ging re­new­al on sev­er­al grounds —- has asked the com­mis­sion to ad­dress the is­sue in mul­tiple for­ums in re­cent years, and has yet to re­ceive a re­sponse it con­siders sat­is­fact­ory.

In March 2012, NRC staff an­nounced it was go­ing to sup­ple­ment its pre­vi­ously is­sued re­view of the po­ten­tial en­vir­on­ment­al im­pacts as­so­ci­ated with the fa­cil­ity. The state re­spon­ded by pro­pos­ing the sup­ple­ment­al re­view ad­dress how the com­mis­sion “deals with severe nuc­le­ar events that lead to sig­ni­fic­ant en­vir­on­ment­al im­pacts in­clud­ing land con­tam­in­a­tion.” In do­ing so, the state cited the 2010 FOIA re­lease of the EPA doc­u­ments.

When NRC staff re­leased a draft of the sup­ple­ment in June 2012, it did not ad­dress New York’s re­quest, the state says. The state re­it­er­ated the re­quest in Au­gust 2012 com­ments on the draft, to which NRC staff re­spon­ded in June 2013:

“NRC staff stated that ‘NRC has tech­nic­al lead­er­ship for the Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the event,’ but it also lis­ted eight oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies ‘who may re­spond to an event at an NRC-li­censed fa­cil­ity, or in­volving NRC-li­censed ma­ter­i­al,’” the state says, quot­ing the NRC re­sponse.

“Staff’s re­sponse did not ad­dress Com­mis­sion­er Mag­wood’s state­ment re­gard­ing the lack of a reg­u­lat­ory frame­work for en­vir­on­ment­al res­tor­a­tion fol­low­ing a ma­jor ra­di­olo­gic­al re­lease,” the state con­tin­ues. “Nor did Staff ex­plain which agency is re­spons­ible for de­con­tam­in­at­ing the New York met­ro­pol­it­an area fol­low­ing a severe ac­ci­dent at In­di­an Point, or which agency’s de­con­tam­in­a­tion stand­ards will ap­ply to a cleanup.”

In the new fil­ing, the state again asks the com­mis­sion to identi­fy which fed­er­al agency would be re­spons­ible for clean­ing up ra­di­ation re­leased by the In­di­an Point re­act­ors and spent-fuel pools, as well as wheth­er Price-An­der­son funds would be avail­able to sup­port such a cleanup.

“Giv­en the unique char­ac­ter­ist­ics of In­di­an Point, the State be­lieves it is es­pe­cially im­port­ant that the pub­lic have ac­cess to this in­form­a­tion,” the New York AG of­fice says, adding that more than 17 mil­lion people live with­in 50 miles of the fa­cil­ity.

“The com­munit­ies with­in the 50-mile ra­di­us around In­di­an Point also con­tain some of the most densely-de­veloped and ex­pens­ive real es­tate around the coun­try, crit­ic­al nat­ur­al re­sources, cen­ters of na­tion­al and in­ter­na­tion­al com­merce, trans­port­a­tion ar­ter­ies and hubs, and his­tor­ic sites,” the state says. “Thus, the de­con­tam­in­a­tion costs of a severe ac­ci­dent at In­di­an Point have the po­ten­tial to be lar­ger than an ac­ci­dent at any oth­er re­act­or in the coun­try.”

Asked to com­ment, NRC spokes­man Scott Bur­nell said the com­mis­sion’s gen­er­al coun­sel of­fice would re­spond dir­ectly to the New York AG of­fice “as ap­pro­pri­ate.”

What We're Following See More »
Avenatti Says He Represents a Third Woman
7 hours ago
2nd Woman Alleges Sexual Misconduct by Kavanaugh
8 hours ago

Senate Democrats are investigating a new allegation of sexual misconduct against SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh. "The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it." Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.

Ford Agrees to Testify on Thursday
15 hours ago
Judiciary Committee Staffer Quits Amid Harassment Claims
1 days ago

"Garrett Ventry, a communications adviser for the Senate Judiciary Committee's GOP majority who was leading the committee's response to allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, has stepped down."

Judiciary Committee Counteroffers on Ford Appearance
2 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.