The Business Council of New York State opposes S.8154-B (Harckham) / A.10326-B (Galef), which would establish the New York State Decommissioning Oversight Board (Board) for nuclear power plants. This legislation is yet another attempt to mitigate the effects of the closure of the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York. But rather than offer thoughtful, substantive solutions this bill simply creates more government - a board whose assigned responsibilities are largely pre-empted by federal law, and comprised of Executive-level appointees (and curiously lacking any representation from business groups or regional economic development councils). If the Administration chooses to conduct oversight of the process of decommissioning nuclear facilities within New York State, they are certainly free to do so without enacting cumbersome legislation.
There are several significant issues with this bill.
First, it requires a Board be established within one month from when a facility’s closure is noticed to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Board, which would be housed within the Department of Public Service, would be comprised of nine state agency appointees, as well as the Offices of the Attorney General and State Comptroller, and an additional ten “community” members. Once established, the Board would be empaneled until (1) the decommissioning period has been completed, (2) all site restoration is completed and site released by the NRC for reuse, and (3) all spent nuclear fuel has been removed from the site.
The decommissioning of Indian Point will follow the NRC’s SAFSTOR (SAFe STORage) strategy, also known as “deferred dismantling”. The SAFSTOR strategy provides that a facility is maintained while the radioactive fuel rods gradually decay. Upon reaching an acceptable threshold, the spent fuel is transferred to an NRC-approved storage facility and only then can the dismantling and decontamination of the facility begin. The SAFSTOR timeline, established by the NRC, provides for up to 50 years of containment followed by up to 10 years for decontamination. This means that the Board may be empaneled – for one site – for up to 60 years. This bill should include a fiscal estimate of what six decades of Board operations might cost to the state.
Second, the Board is primarily tasked with coordinating state agency oversight efforts, observing disbursements from the decommissioning trust fund, and keeping the public apprised of pertinent developments. However, many of the tasks and responsibilities assigned to the Board are redundant to established procedures and, in many cases, pre-empted by federal regulations. The NRC has established rules explicitly concerning the decommissioning of nuclear power facilities, including the cleanup of contaminated plant systems and structures, removal of the radioactive fuel, trust fund disbursements, and release of the property when the decommissioning process is completed.
Further, under federal regulation, the public has several opportunities to participate in the decommissioning process. Local public meetings are held after post-shutdown decommissioning activity reports are submitted to the NRC, when NRC receives the license termination plan, and prior to the issuance of license amendments.
Last, despite the largely trivial tasks assigned, this legislation seems to envision the Board playing a substantive role in the decommissioning process. The Business Council would caution against such an approach. The Attorney General would be empowered to compel compliance with the edicts established in this legislation, which the state might not have the requisite legal authority to enforce, against a corporation with limited liability. This could lead to the state assuming costs and obligations relative to the decommissioning process or extending the time until the site can be effective released for reuse.
For the above reasons, The Business Council opposes the passage and enactment of S.8154-B (Harckham) / A.10326-B (Galef).