Pa. to decide who pays to raze TMI-2

January 07, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Who will pay to tear down the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor, whose cataclysmic near-meltdown in 1979 came to symbolize the perils of nuclear power?

This $300 million question will be answered at long last today by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission as Three Mile Island approaches the 14th anniversary of the nation's worst accident at a commercial nuclear power plant.

After years of trying to remove the radioactive fuel and clean the contaminated plant, Metropolitan Edison Co., half-owner of the plant, wants its customers to foot the bill for "decommissioning" TMI Unit 2.

That will probably mean dismantling the reactor building and hauling off the pieces to a special nuclear waste dump. Met Ed estimates that process will cost $10.78 million a year, every year, until 2014, and it wants a rate increase to cover those costs.

The request is part of a $68 million annual rate increase sought by Met Ed. If the full increase is granted, a customer using 500 kilowatt hours a month would see an 11.5 percent increase in the bills, up $5.24 a month, to $50.71 from $45.47.

Anti-nuclear groups and consumer advocates argue that the company that built the plant, at Middletown 10 miles southeast of Harrisburg on the Susquehanna River, should shoulder the cost of decommissioning by setting aside profits annually, if necessary, to pay for the dismantling. Customers have already shouldered too much of the cost of building the plant in the first place, and then of defueling it after the accident, they say.

An administrative law judge recommended last month that Reading-based Met Ed, a subsidiary of General Public Utilities Corp., of Parsippany, N.J., be granted about $20.2 million of its overall rate request, including $6.1 million a year for the decommissioning.

GPU is the parent of the three companies that own TMI. Met Ed owns 50 percent. Jersey Central Power & Light and Pennsylvania Electric Co., each of which own one-quarter of the plant, are expected to seek decommissioning rate increases later. Another GPU subsidiary, GPU Nuclear Corp. operates the plant.

Consumer and anti-nuclear groups are challenging Judge Robert A. Christianson's decision.

Eric Epstein, spokesman for the safe-energy group Three Mile Island Alert, says rate payers have shouldered more than their fair share for a reactor that operated for scarcely three months.

In the past 14 years, customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have shelled out $700 million for building the plant and $246 million for defueling it after the 1979 partial meltdown. Met Ed ratepayers in 14 central and eastern Pennsylvania counties have paid half of that amount, or $473 million.

"If you divide the $946 million ratepayers have paid for the construction and defueling by the . . . number of . . . days TMI Unit 2 was online, you will come up with an alarming figure," says Mr. Epstein, a teacher in Harrisburg. Based on Mr. Epstein's premise, customers have paid $10.5 million a day for each of the 90 days TMI Unit 2 operated.

The state Office of Consumer Advocate and the Office of Trial Staff, an independent branch of the PUC that represents the public interest, are challenging Met Ed's request on grounds that TMI-2 was not a "used and useful plant" that provided a benefit to rate payers.

Consumer Advocate Irwin A. Popowsky, whose office represents customers as an independent arm of the state Attorney General's Office, contends that the company and its stockholders, not the rate payers, should bear financial responsibility for decommissioning TMI-2.

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