Greater Commitment Needed To Solve Continuing Problems at Three Mile Island

EMD-81-106: Published: Aug 26, 1981. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 1981.

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The nuclear accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) placed a major electric utility system, the General Public Utilities Corporation (GPU), on the brink of insolvency while faced with a multiyear, $600-million unfunded cleanup operation that must be completed under uncertain regulatory constraints. GAO reviewed the current and prospective status of GPU.

GAO concluded that: (1) replacement power for TMI units is available, but future system reliability is questionable unless funds are made available to increase construction and maintenance above present restricted levels; (2) the financial condition of GPU continues to deteriorate and, unless sufficient rate relief is granted to restore its financial credibility, its future as a provider of electric power is in doubt; (3) cleanup of TMI-2 is technologically feasible, but the uncertainties surrounding the source of the estimated $600 million needed for the task and the regulatory environment in which it must be done have yet to be resolved; (4) the expeditious cleanup of TMI-2 and the benefits that can be derived are significant enough to warrant the financial participation of several parties rather than putting the entire burden on any one entity; (5) state officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have not taken the leadership role in assembling the financial assistance needed for the cleanup; (6) on-site property insurance coverage needs to be increased to levels that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determines to be adequate if other utilities are to avoid the financial and operational stress suffered by GPU in the event of another major accident; and (7) better defined regulatory guidelines for nuclear accident recovery efforts are needed to minimize the delays and added costs that have occurred at TMI-2.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was made in 1981 when planning for a multiyear cleanup fund was being done. DOE has agreed to participate on a research and development basis, but did not see the necessity of committing to a multiyear effort with the funds approved by Congress.

    Matter: Congress should provide the required multiyear funding to the Department of Energy (DOE) for its research and development program at TMI.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congressional action to devise a funding mechanism was not necessary as the cleanup has progressed with private sector funding.

    Matter: Congress should closely follow the current efforts to resolve the funding problems for the TMI-2 cleanup through state and utility industry financing and the DOE research and development program. If these state-led efforts are not successful, Congress should devise a mechanism which would serve to obtain the required financial assistance to complete the TMI-2 cleanup.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE never initiated the action suggested. Cleanup and funding are progressing without federal funds other than limited DOE funding for research and development.

    Recommendation: DOE should prepare a multiyear budget proposal for federal participation in the TMI cleanup effort and present it to Congress. The budget proposal should recognize the primary leadership role of state officials in working with GPU and the industry in the cleanup effort and within that parameter should clearly specify the objectives to be achieved by federal involvement, the work steps required in each fiscal year, the application of the program results, and the total funding needed to successfully meet research and development objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: NRC should closely follow the current efforts of the insurance and utility industries to increase insurance coverage to what it determines to be an acceptable level. No later than December 31, 1981, NRC should assess the progress being made. This assessment should include an evaluation of the insurance available in the private sector and a determination as to whether a mandated insurance coverage program is necessary.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC is still deliberating this issue. NRC staff recommends that no additional action be taken. The staff believes that TMI showed recovery actions that would be better suited if developed on a case basis, and the development of accident recovery guidelines would be too manpower intensive.

    Recommendation: NRC should establish a set of guidelines that would facilitate the development of recovery procedures by utility companies in the event of other nuclear accidents. The preparation of the guidelines should be initially based on the lessons learned and experience gained from the TMI-2 cleanup and recovery efforts at other nuclear installations. NRC should periodically assess the adequacy of its guidelines and standards and evaluate the state-of-the-art technology for decontaminating air and water effluent produced by a nuclear accident to ensure that it can quickly respond to the needs of the regulated utility and adequately protect the public health and safety.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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