What can be done with abandoned nuclear plants


Imagine a summer day in, oh, let’s say, 2050. The sun is shining. It’s about 85 degrees (let’s pretend for the moment that global warming hasn’t turned the earth into an oven by then) with no humidity.

Children are out playing on a swing set in a community park. Nearby, there is a sandbox where kids are digging. On the banks of the nearby river, kids are making mud pies. Moms and stay-at-home dads are chatting on park benches while their children frolic.

The site of this idyllic scene?

Three Mile Island.

The playground is on the former site of Unit 2.

The park extends to areas on the island that once held radioactive fuel.

But that’s all gone now. There is no trace of a nuclear reactor, or cooling towers, or fuel pools. It’s been dismantled, decommissioned, cleaned up, and now it’s a popular public park for Middletown, Pa., residents.

Yes, you guessed it, this is science fiction. None of this seems likely to happen.

TMI, site of the nation’s worst nuclear accident, will eventually be shut down, but it will probably never be returned to a greenfield condition.

Admittedly, FirstEnergy officials don’t really present such a rosy scenario for the site. But at a public meeting about the eventual decommissioning of the facility, officials said the plan is to restore the property to a pre-plant site -- at a cost of about $918 million.

That caused local TMI watchdogs to scoff -- likely with some justification.

"After 35 years of doing this, let’s be honest, you don’t have the money," said TMI Alert member Eric Epstein. "You don’t have the technology. The plant is not going to be cleaned up. The reality is that the plant will never be decommissioned. There is nowhere to take the waste. The plant is never going to be cleaned up. There’s no money. There’s no resources."

He might not be accurate on all of those statements, but as things stand now it’s hard to imagine the property being restored to a pre-plant condition.

Whether the funding for such efforts will be adequate is debatable. FirstEnergy said it has about $665 million in a trust fund for the decommissioning, and it plans to use the earnings from that money to grow the fund to the billion dollars or so projected to be needed.

Maybe that will happen, maybe not.

But the real issue is the waste.

The spent fuel is being stored on site. There is no operative national plan to deal with the waste at TMI and other nuclear plants.

Plans to move waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada appear to be gridlocked by political NIMBYism -- and understandably so.

If we can’t solve the fuel disposal problem, how can we even begin to imagine a pre-plant state for Three Mile Island?

The way it looks now, our nation will wind up with hundreds of storage sites at defunct plants -- repositories of material that remains radioactive for about 10,000 years (longer than recorded human history).

Then again, things change. New scientific discoveries are made -- solving seemingly intractable problems.

Science fiction sometimes comes true.

So, let’s tentatively pencil in a community picnic for Sept. 4, 2050 at Three Mile Island Park.

~ York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News


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