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UK and USA nuclear waste clean-up – a $billion here, a $billion there – pretty soon you’re talking real money

US Nuclear Site Cleanup Underfunded By Up To $70 Billion, Clean Technica, December 1st, 2020 by Michael Barnard 

Headlines out of the UK are pointing out the horrible state of affairs for nuclear generation decommissioning after a committee of Members of Parliament that the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority really doesn’t have a handle on the 17 sites, their costs, or the vendors they selected for cleanup. They are currently projecting $177 billion and 120 years for the full decommissioning, over $1 billion per site. Some of this is due to botched procurement, with two different cleanup vendors stripped of their contracts.

Certainly the UK cleanup is a fustercluck of epic proportions, equivalent in fiscal sense to building Hinkley. That new reactor, billions and years over budget and schedule, required a commitment for 35 years to pay $150/MWh for every MWh they generated, at a time when onshore wind and solar in the UK are at or under $50/MWh and offshore wind is under $100/MWh.

Some US commenters were feeling chuffed, although that’s not a term they would use, that the US was handling things so much better. But the USA isn’t far behind the UK in problems, it just isn’t as public.

Per the World Nuclear Association:

In the USA, utilities are collecting 0.1 to 0.2 cents/kWh to fund decommissioning. They must then report regularly to the NRC on the status of their decommissioning funds. About two-thirds of the total estimated cost of decommissioning all US nuclear power reactors has already been collected, leaving a liability of about $9 billion to be covered over the remaining operating lives of about 100 reactors (on the basis of an average of $320 million per unit). NRC data for the end of 2018 indicated that there was a combined total of $64.7 billion held in the decommissioning trust funds covering the 119 operational and retired US nuclear power reactors.

An OECD Nuclear Energy Agency survey published in 2016 reported US dollar (2013) costs in response to a wide survey. For US reactors the expected total decommissioning costs range from $544 to $821 million; for units over 1100 MWe the costs ranged from $0.46 to $0.73 million per MWe, for units half that size, costs ranged from $1.07 to $1.22 million per MWe. For Finland’s Loviisa (2 x 502 MWe) the estimate was €326 million. For a Swiss 1000 MWe PWR the detailed estimate amounts to CHF 663 million (€617 million). In Slovakia, a detailed case study showed a total cost of €1.14 billion to decommission Bohunice V1 (2 x 440 MWe) and dismantle it by 2025.

[Brief aside: I love the World Nuclear Association, because they are actually honest and report details that contradict their mission. I cite them on Germany’s wholesale electricity prices, which they freely admit are among the lowest in Europe as that country ramps up renewables rapidly and dumps nuclear. They aren’t just a lobbying organization, although they are an industry-funded lobbying association. Unlike the equivalent oil and gas organizations, they seem compelled to be honest and complete, perhaps because being honest and complete usually isn’t so disgustingly horrific for them, just simply bad.]

Back to the thread. The US has collected a bunch of money from operating reactors into a cleanup fund that they acknowledge is underfunded to the tune of billions already. But the industry estimates show that they are collecting under half of what it will actually take to decommission the sites.

There are about 100 reactors in the United States. Assuming they collect the $320 million per reactor (they won’t, as reactors are closing prematurely), they would have a fund of $32 billion. But they need a fund of closer to $70 billion, and they are short regardless. So the US fleet cleanup is going to cost the taxpayer probably closer to an additional $40 billion, if it all goes according to the estimates.

Note that the UK and Slovakia examples show that it usually doesn’t, just as building new nuclear never seems to come in on time or budget. The reality is going to be closer to the European and Slovakian costs, so let’s assume a billion per reactor as a reasonable number.

The US will have maybe $30 billion. They’ll need $100 billion. Yeah, $70 billion is the more reasonable number.

“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

– US Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen

Of course, this is on top of the $1.6 billion annual tax breaks nuclear plants in the US get, the $10 billion liability insurance cap with the taxpayer holding the bill should a Fukushima-scale disaster occur and the state-level boondoggles like the $1.1 billion Ohio subsidy that came with a side helping of $60 million in bribes…………….

December 3, 2020 - Posted by | business and costs, wastes

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