Nuclear Regulation:

NRC's Decommissioning Cost Estimates Appear Low

RCED-88-184: Published: Jul 29, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO discussed the: (1) adequacy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) cost estimates for decommissioning nuclear power plants and fuel-cycle facilities; and (2) methods that utilities and operators could use to ensure the availability of decommissioning funds.

GAO found that: (1) the NRC cost estimates were low because they did not consider the costs of shipping spent fuel and demolishing nonradioactive structures as decommissioning activities; (2) NRC regulations did not include requirements to clean up either on-site or off-site facilities in the event of an accident; (3) since the full extent of decommissioning costs was unknown, estimates from various sources ranged from $10 million to about $3 billion per nuclear power plant; (4) most experts believed that the NRC estimate of $750,000 to decommission fuel-cycle facilities was low; and (5) new NRC regulations requiring utilities and fuel-cycle operators to accumulate funds through prepayment, an external sinking fund, surety bonds, or insurance would provide reasonable assurance that funds will be available for decommissioning.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC plans to reexamine its cost estimates and has three research programs underway to obtain information on the conduct of decommissioning activities at Shippingport, source term data, and technical, safety, and cost issues. NRC also plans to update earlier PNL study results.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should reexamine NRC estimates to determine whether they appropriately reflect all the costs that utilities and fuel-cycle operators believe are needed to decommission their facilities. NRC should use information being developed to decommission Shippingport and the information gained in resolving the differences between the Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNL) and TLG Engineering, Inc. estimates for the Washington Public Power Supply System Unit 2 plant.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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