Energy, the Environment, and Public Policy: Issues for the 1990s

By David L. McKee | Go to book overview

11 Nuclear Oversight: A Critical Analysis of the Public Element in Decommissioning Policy

MARTIN J. PASQUALETTI

Everything eventually comes to the end of its useful life and is "decommissioned." When this time is reached for things such as sweaters, lawn mowers, and automobiles, we throw them away, usually in a sanitary landfill--and we forget about them. On the other hand, when large radioactive equipment such as nuclear power plants reach this stage, we cannot be as casual about discarding them. We must dispose of them with care. And we cannot forget about them. They are an indelible environmental impact of energy development.

In its simplest form nuclear power plant decommissioning is a waste disposal problem. Most of us have heard or read what this means in reference to operational wastes, but the scale and expense of nuclear power plant decommissioning will rearrange our thinking on this topic. We are about to discover that this huge, complex, and endless activity is the next focus of nuclear power. We are also about to discover the importance of the public role in this process.

There is little public knowledge of the approaching age of decommissioning. There is less knowledge that the process--albeit at a small scale--has actually already begun. About 50 research (nongenerating) reactors have been decommissioned already, primarily by dismantlement. In addition, 24 government and commercial power reactors have been decommissioned (EPRI 1988). Two from this latter category have been dismantled--the Elk River station 30 miles northeast of Minneapolis, and the Shippingport power plant 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Each project yielded valuable experience despite the fact that both reactors were small--

____________________
Thanks are due to Steven M. Marks, J.D., LL.M., for helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this chapter.

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