Nuclear Regulation: Better Oversight Needed to Ensure Accumulation of Funds to Decommission Nuclear Power Plants: RCED-99-75

May 1999
GAO Reports;5/3/1999, p1
Government Document
The estimated cost to dismantle all of the commercial nuclear power plants in this country, dispose of the resulting radioactive waste, and clean up the plant sites is about $30 billion, of which about $14 billion is currently unfunded. The process, known as decommissioning, is necessary because, following the retirement of a nuclear power plant and the removal of the plant's spent fuel, a significant radiation hazard remains. Utilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to own and operate nuclear power plants collect money from their electricity customers to pay for decommissioning. Although the estimated cost to decommission a nuclear power plant is on the order of $300 million to $400 million in today's dollars, NRC does not know if licensees are setting aside enough money for this future expense. GAO's analysis showed that, under likely assumptions, 36 of 76 licensees had not accumulated sufficient decommissioning funds through 1997. However, all but 15 of these 36 licensees appeared to be making up their funding shortfalls with recent increases in the rates that they are accumulating decommissioning funds. Regarding the movement toward deregulating the electricity industry, in November 1998 NRC began requiring its licensees to provide additional financial assurances if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state utility commissions will no longer guarantee, through the regulation of electricity rates, the collection of sufficient funds for decommissioning.


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