For Immediate Release - December 22, 2015

AG Healey Joins Other New England States in Advocating for Strict Oversight of Funds to Clean Up Closed Power Plants

Files Brief with Nuclear Regulatory Commission Urging Proper Use of Decommissioning Trust Funds

BOSTON –Attorney General Maura Healey announced today that she has filed a brief with other New England states in support of Vermont’s call on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to ensure decommissioning funds meant to clean up radioactive waste at closed power plants are not used for other purposes.

AG Healey was joined in filing the brief with the states of Connecticut and New Hampshire.

“With Entergy’s recent announcement that it will close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station no later than 2019, we have grown increasingly focused on the need to ensure that the Pilgrim decommissioning trust funds will be used only for decommissioning, and that there will be sufficient funds to fully decontaminate the site,” AG Healey said. “Preserving these funds for their intended use is vital to the protection of Massachusetts residents and their tax dollars. We urge the NRC to do its job and ensure that decommissioning trust funds are used exclusively for the safe removal of dangerous radioactive material until that work is complete.”

While the NRC’s regulations place strict limits on the use of the decommissioning trust funds until radiological decontamination is complete, the agency has allowed plant owners to withdraw these funds to pay for activities that do not qualify as “decommissioning,” such as lobbying fees and spent fuel management, thereby increasing the risk of a funding shortfall. The AG’s Office argues in its brief that the NRC has previously confirmed that the funds should solely be used to reduce radiological contamination.

In November, Vermont, joined by the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation and the Green Mountain Power Corporation, asked the NRC to conduct a comprehensive and open review of Entergy’s use of the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Trust Fund.

Under federal law, nuclear power plant owners are required to put money into trust funds, known as decommissioning trust funds, to pay for the costs to reduce residual radioactivity at closed plants to a level that allows future unrestricted use of plant sites.  Once a plant stops operating, decommissioning trust funds are often the only source of funds available to pay for removal of dangerous radioactive contamination.. These funds are intended to reduce the likelihood that plants will default on their obligation to decontaminate their properties and leave behind a highly toxic legacy that poses a threat to public health and safety and must ultimately be remediated with taxpayer funds. 

The NRC’s lenient approach has also created a negative incentive for plant owners to defer important non-decommissioning planning and work, such as the transfer of spent fuel into safer dry casks, until the decommissioning trust fund becomes the only way to pay for those costs.

AG Healey has been a vocal advocate for increased safety at power plants. In June, she sent a letter to U.S. Senator James M. Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer, expressing support for three key pieces of legislation that are vital to increasing  security at decommissioned reactors where spent fuel is stored, enhancing safety of long term storage of spent fuel at plant sites, including Pilgrim, and increasing opportunities for public participation in the decommissioning process for retiring plants.

Entergy announced on Oct. 13 that it will shut down the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth by June 1, 2019 citing low energy prices, reduced revenues and increased operational costs. Pilgrim generates 680 megawatts of electricity.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General and Senior Appellate Counsel Seth Schofield of AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau.