WASHINGTON - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to adequately ensure that owners of nuclear power plants have enough funds to safely own, operate, and later decommission the facilities, according to a congressional review.
The commission needs to tighten its review process for license transfer requests, especially because the future costs to dismantle a plant and dispose of radioactive waste could increase, said the study by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
The review was requested by Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, because of concerns that deregulation and recent license transfers have affected decommission funds.
Costs of decommissioning ranges from $300 million to $400 million per plant.
The commission has licensed 125 nuclear power plants for a limited time. Utilities have sold or are in the process of selling all or part of 15 plants. Another 30 plants have had licenses transferred.
Before transferring a license to a new plant owner, the commission requires companies to have funds available.
In general, enough money is being set aside to eventually take a plant out of service, the report said. But the commission hasn't done enough to monitor the financial arrangements, it said.
The commission's ''reviews were not always rigorous enough to ensure that decommissioning funds would be adequate,'' the report said. ''Moreover, NRC did not always adequately verify the new owners' financial qualifications to safely own and operate the plants.''
The commission should request guaranteed additional revenue sources and document its review of any financial information - including revenue projections, the report said.
Also, the report said the commission now allows plant owners to wait too long - about two years - before their licenses are terminated to perform radiological assessments to determine what additional cleanup might be needed. The General Accounting Office recommended the commission move up that deadline.
The commission, in response, said requiring the surveys earlier ''would not add significant value to the decommissioning process.'' It also disagreed that it should modify its review guidelines to include a checklist process ''because many of the proposed license transfers are unique.''
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press