High Profile Letter Sent to DOE Secretary Rick Perry re National Security Attributes of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

By letter dated June 26, 2018, a broad coalition of 75 former government officials, lawmakers and industry leaders — a quarter of whom are retired admirals or vice admirals — expressed concern to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or Department) Secretary Rick Perry regarding the impact of the premature shutdown of nuclear power plants.

“We urge you to continue to take concrete steps to ensure the national security attributes of U.S. nuclear power plants are properly recognized by policymakers and are valued in U.S. electricity markets,” states the letter.


On June 1, 2018, President Donald Trump requested that DOE take measures to prevent further closures of nuclear power plants due to a national security interest in securing the national power grid’s resilience.  The recent letter appears to support that request, underscoring the key role of nuclear power toward the national security of the United States, particularly as an essential component of electric grid resilience and the largest source of emission-free generation.

Although the letter acknowledges that discussions concerning the general importance of nuclear energy are underway at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), grid operator and state regulator levels, the letter asserts that only DOE has the power to integrate nuclear power into the broader national security imperatives.  While recognizing that such integration will take time to consider, the letter requests that Secretary Perry take steps to ensure that no additional nuclear power plants are closed in the meantime.

In addition to admirals and vice admirals, signatories to the letter include former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; former U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Trent Lott (R-MS), Jim Talent (R-MO), and John Warner (R-VA); former New Jersey Governor and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman; and, many former industry executives including former General Motors’ Chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Daniel Akerson, former AREVA CEO Thomas Christopher, retired Westinghouse Electric Co. and URENCO USA Chair Charles Pryor and former Battelle Memorial Institute President and CEO Jeffrey Wadsworth.  In addition, three former Chairs (Nils Diaz, Dale Klein and Richard Meserve) of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed the letter, as well as some former NRC Commissioners and several former Directors of national laboratories.

National Security Benefits

“The national security benefits of a strong domestic nuclear energy sector take many forms,” states the letter, “many of which overlap and together are woven into the nation’s greater strength and resilience.”  The letter continues by citing the following examples:

  • Our nation’s nuclear power plants are among the most robust elements of U.S. critical infrastructure, offering a level of protection against natural and adversarial threats that goes far beyond most other elements of our nation’s electrical grid. The Department of Defense depends on the nation’s grid to power 99 percent of its installations, meaning large scale disruptions affect the nation’s ability to defend itself.
  • Nuclear plants have up to two years’ worth of fuel on site, providing valuable fuel diversity and increasing the resilience of our electrical grid by eliminating the supply vulnerabilities that face some other forms of energy supply.
  • Several national security organizations, including our nuclear Navy and significant parts of the Department of Energy, benefit from a strong civil nuclear sector. Many of the companies that serve the civil nuclear sector also supply the nuclear Navy and major DOE programs.  For example, the Administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review noted that the United States is unable to produce enriched uranium for national security purposes.  Re-establishing this capability will be far easier and more economical with a strong, thriving civil nuclear sector.  Moreover, the nuclear industry is an important career destination for military veterans.
  • Nuclear energy is by far our nation’s largest source of emissions-free generation. Carbon dioxide emissions from other forms of electricity production contribute to changes in our climate, and a changing climate has been identified by the national security community as a national security risk.
  • Competitiveness internationally is inextricably linked to maintaining a strong domestic nuclear program. More than six decades ago, the United States developed what is today the commercial nuclear industry, which established and maintained a leadership role that transcends power generation.  However, we are in jeopardy of losing our edge and missing out on much of a global opportunity estimated at over half a trillion dollars.  Today, there are 56 reactors under construction in the world and this expansion is largely driven by China and Russia.
  • A strong civil nuclear export sector creates deep and long-lasting relationships between the U.S. and partner nations across important areas that advance America’s national security interests, including nonproliferation, nuclear safety, and physical and cyber security. If we do not continue to play a major role in the global market for nuclear reactors, technology and fuel, our influence over nonproliferation and nuclear safety standards will be greatly diminished.


By the end of 2021, twenty-four of the operating nuclear power plants in the United States are either set to close or will no longer be profitable according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) that was issued on May 15, 2018.  In addition, the report cautions that more plants are likely to close.  According to the BNEF study, the industry is increasingly challenged by sluggish power demand, inexpensive natural gas and the rise of renewable energy.  This is especially true in the Midwest, where the use of wind power and other renewable power options are being used increasingly.

In this regard, a February 2018 report from BNER and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy found that renewable power had reached 18 percent of the U.S. electricity generation capacity.  The expansion has been spurred, in part, by an increase in hyrdopower investments in the West.  Nuclear power recently contributed about 20 percent, but that figure is declining as operating facilities continue to shut down.

In addition, DOE is currently weighing a March 2018 request from the competitive power unit at FirstEnergy Corporation to declare that an emergency exists its PJM market.  The PJM Energy Market procures electricity to meet consumer’s demands both in real time and in the near term.  It includes the sale or purchase of energy in PJM’s Real-Time Energy Market (five minutes) and Day-Ahead Market (one day forward).  If Secretary Perry agrees to the request, it would mean the PJM would have to compensate both nuclear and coal generators in the at-risk market in order to protect the stability of the grid.

FirstEnergy Solutions Declares Bankruptcy and Plant Closing Dates

On March 31, 2018, FirstEnergy Solutions — the parent of First Energy Nuclear Operating Company — filed for bankruptcy protection.  As part of its restructuring plan, the company noted that it intended to close three nuclear power plants.

According to published news reports, FirstEnergy Chief Executive Officer and President Charles E. Jones stated as follows:   “FirstEnergy will remain focused on creating long-term value for its customers, employees and shareholders.  Simply put, we will be better positioned to deliver on the tremendous opportunities for customer-focused growth.”

Plant Closings

The company plans to retreat from its role as an energy generating company.  In this regard, FirstEnergy Solutions intends to close the following plants:

  •  the Davis Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio by 2020;
  • the two-unit Beaver Valley Power Plant in Shipingport, Pennsylvania by 2021; and,
  •  the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio, in 2021.

The company said the closings were a milestone in its path towards redefining itself as a utility and not a power producer.

DOE Filing

Pursuant to the Federal Power Act law, FirstEnergy Solutions has also requested that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) declare that an emergency exists its PJM market.  The PJM Energy Market procures electricity to meet consumer’s demands both in real time and in the near term.  It includes the sale or purchase of energy in PJM’s Real-Time Energy Market (five minutes) and Day-Ahead Market (one day forward).

If DOE Secretary Rick Perry agrees to the request, it would mean the PJM would have to compensate both nuclear and coal generators in the at-risk market in order to protect the stability of the grid.

NYSERDA Seeks Project Manager for WVDP

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) West Valley Site Management Program (WVSMP) is seeking an experienced technical professional to join NYSERDA’s team at the Western New York Nuclear Service Center in northern Cattaraugus County, New York.

This individual will be responsible for supporting NYSERDA’s participation in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP), a joint federal-state decommissioning and radioactive waste cleanup project.  This position reports to NYSERDA’s WVDP and End-State Planning Program Manager and will involve on-site observation, monitoring, inspection and oversight of WVDP work activities.


The Project Manager’s primary responsibilities will be to:

  • provide direct observation, inspection, monitoring, oversight and reporting of WVDP work activities, including (but limited to) facility demolition activities, soil excavation and waste packaging;
  • provide subject matter expert reviews of plans, procedures, work packages and radiological and chemical safety work control documents for decommissioning, deactivation and demolition activities;
  • prepare written reports and otherwise keep management fully apprised of WVDP activities, including contractor performance related to safety, regulatory compliance, cost and schedule;
  • prepare MS-Project or Primavera P6 schedules and assist other staff in the preparation of integrated project schedules;
  • represent NYSERDA at meetings with DOE, the site contractor, regulatory agencies, members of the public and other stakeholders;
  • contribute to a positive team environment, a culture of excellence and creative problem solving; and,
  • perform other responsibilities as assigned.


Required minimum qualifications an individual must possess include:

  • a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in engineering, health physics or industrial safety plus 5 years of relevant experience (i.e., work at the WVDP or a similar nuclear facility, including decommissioning experience, radioactive material management or radioactive waste management) or an unrelated Bachelor’s or Master’s degree plus 7 years relevant experience (work at the WVDP or a similar nuclear facility, including decommissioning experience, radioactive material management or radioactive waste management);
  • strong analytical skills including a demonstrated ability to effectively organize and evaluate quantitative information, draw conclusions and make recommendations or decisions;
  • strong organizational, planning and scheduling abilities with demonstrated proficiency in MS-Project or Primavera P6;
  • strong work ethic and resolute integrity;
  • strong written and verbal communication abilities and interpersonal skills;
  • knowledge of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations or DOE Orders and policies; and,
  • ability to work effectively outdoors in inclement weather conditions and safely negotiate unpaved walking surfaces, moderately steep slopes and uneven terrain.


 Candidates will be considered for Project Manager through Senior Project Manager based on qualifications and experience.  An excellent benefits package is also offered. 


In order to apply for the open position, please submit a cover letter and resume to recruiter@nyserda.ny.gov.  When applying, please include Project Manager, WVDP and Job Code 473 in the Subject Line.

For additional information, please contact Alyse Peterson, Senior Project Manager for Radiactive Waste Policy & Nuclear Coordination, NYSERDA, at (518) 862-1090 ext. 3274 or at alp@nyserda.ny.gov.

Further Actions Approved re Yucca Mountain Licensing Process

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved further actions related to its review of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) application for authorization to construct a high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

In particular, the next steps involve information-gathering activities related to the suspended adjudication on the application.  The activities are intended to enable efficient, informed decisions in support of executing any further appropriations of funds for the High-Level Waste Program.

Overview  The Commission has directed agency staff to hold a virtual meeting of the Licensing Support Network Advisory Review Panel to provide information to, and gather input from, advisory panel members and the public regarding reconstitution of the Licensing Support Network (LSN) or a suitable replacement system.  Agency staff will also gather preliminary information regarding potential hearing venues.

The Commission limited expenditures for the information-gathering activities to $110,000 from the Nuclear Waste Fund.  As of June 30, 2017, NRC had approximately $634,000 in remaining unobligated Nuclear Waste Fund appropriations.

Background  The LSN was an online database of nearly 4 million documents created to allow various parties and the public access to information needed for the hearing on DOE’s request for a construction authorization for the Yucca Mountain repository.  The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Boards (ASLB) had admitted nearly 300 contentions from various parties challenging aspects of DOE’s application.

In September 2011, the Yucca Mountain hearing was suspended and the LSN was decommissioned after Congress reduced funding.  At the time, the Commission directed agency staff to preserve the documents from the LSN within ADAMS.

Subsequently, in August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC to resume its review of the application using the remaining previously appropriated funds.  In response, NRC staff completed the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) in January 2015 and a supplement to DOE’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in May 2016.

The Commission’s Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM), Commission voting records and the staff’s proposal (COMSECY-17-0019) are available on the NRC website at www.nrc.gov.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

NRC Amends Licensing, Inspection and Annual Fees for FY 2017

On June 30, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that the agency has amended its existing regulations to reflect the licensing, inspection, special project and annual fees it will charge applicants and licensees for fiscal year 2017.  The amended regulations reduce annual fees for most licensees, primarily due to a decrease in the agency’s budget.

Overview  Annual fees for FY 2017 decrease by 7.5 percent over last year for operating reactors; 2 to 11 percent for most fuel facilities; less than 1 percent for research and test reactors; and, 4.6 percent for spent fuel storage and reactor decommissioning licensees.  Fees increase by 13 percent for
 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) uranium recovery activities, while other uranium recovery licensees remain flat.  For the final rule, the NRC has lowered the hourly rate of staff review time from $265 to $263 for FY 2017.  Fees charged under 10 CFR Part 170 have been updated accordingly.

The NRC estimates the FY 2017 annual fees will be paid by licensees of 99 operating commercial power reactors, four research and test reactors, 122 spent nuclear fuel storage and decommissioning reactor facilities, nine fuel cycle facilities, 10 uranium recovery facilities and approximately 2,700 nuclear materials licensees.  The final rule implements several process improvements approved by the Commission in
FY 2016 aimed at making the NRC’s fees process more efficient and transparent.  Of 14 process improvements, 10 have been fully implemented, with the remainder due to be completed by September 30, 2017. 

Background  A proposed fee rule was published for public comment on January 30, 2017.  The final rule was published in the Federal Register on June 30, 2017.  (See 82 Federal Register 30,682.)  The rule includes fees required by law to recover approximately 90 percent of the NRC’s budget.  For FY 2017, the NRC received total budget authority of $940.1 million, including $23 million in prior year carryover funds.  The carryover funds are not included in the calculation of fees for
FY 2017.

The NRC’s required fee recovery amount for FY 2017, after billing and collection adjustments, is $805.9 million.  Approximately 37 percent, or $297.3 million, of the fees will recover the cost of specific services to applicants and licensees under 10 CFR Part 170.  The remaining 63 percent,
$508.6 million, will be billed as annual fees to licensees under 10 CFR Part 171.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre at (301) 415-8200.

Federal and State Officials Attend WIPP Reopening Ceremony

On January 9, 2017, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz and DOE Office of Environmental Management (EM) Assistant Secretary Monica Regalbuto joined New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and others to mark the reopening and resumption of waste operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which is located approximately 40 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico.  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway also attended the celebration.

Waste emplacement activities were suspended at WIPP following a waste drum rupture in an underground storage panel and a separate underground fire in early 2014. “The tireless efforts by the workforce, the contractor and federal management and the community to make WIPP a safer place to fulfill its critical mission is a remarkable feat,” said Energy Secretary Moniz.


On December 23, 2016, DOE and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) authorized WIPP to reopen following almost three years of recovery operations due the early 2014 underground fire and subsequent unrelated fire.  Twelve days later, on January 4, 2017, the Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) began moving waste underground from the Waste Handling Building.

The Waste Handling Building, which contains approximately 40,000 square meters of storage space, was originally intended to store waste before underground disposal at the WIPP facility.  However, it began being used for indefinite storage following the suspension of disposal operations in early 2014.  NMED, which serves as the WIPP facility’s primary state regulator, has set a deadline to clear out the Waste Handling Building by June 30, 2017—although DOE is considering a more ambitious timeframe according to various news outlets.  Transuranic waste stored at the Waste Handling Building must be disposed below ground before WIPP can resume accepting new shipments of nuclear waste from across the DOE nuclear complex.

According to DOE, the WIPP facility is expected to accept approximately five shipments per week once shipments are resumed to the mine.  Prior to the 2014 accidents, the WIPP facility was accepting more than 15 shipments per week.  According to the Department’s 2016 Annual Transuranic Waste Inventory Report, there was approximately 45,000 cubic meters of contact-handled transuranic waste destined for the WIPP facility across 14 sites in the DOE’s nuclear complex.  In addition, there was approximately 2,500 cubic meters of remote-handled transuranic waste at 11 sites. These figures, according to the report, do not include transuranic waste that DOE expects to generate from ongoing and future Department cleanup operations.

In July 2016, DOE approved strict new waste acceptance criteria for the WIPP facility.  DOE sites will not be able to ship waste to the facility unless it meets the new criteria, which has created some challenges in cases where waste was packaged under the old criteria, but will now need to be certified to meet the new criteria.  DOE has not yet announced which sites will ship waste to WIPP first.


Transuranic waste began accumulating in the 1940s with the beginning of the nation’s nuclear defense program.  As early as the 1950’s, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommended deep disposal of long-lived transuranic radioactive wastes in geologically stable formations, such as deep salt beds.  Sound environmental practices and strict regulations require such wastes to be isolated to protect human health and the environment.

Bedded salt is free of fresh flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable—an ideal medium for permanently isolating long-lived radioactive wastes from the environment.  However, its most important quality in this application is the way salt rock seals all fractures and naturally closes all openings.

Throughout the 1960’s, government scientists searched for an appropriate site for radioactive waste disposal, eventually testing a remote desert area of southeastern New Mexico where, 250 million years earlier, evaporation cycles of the ancient Permian Sea had created a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed.

In 1979, Congress authorized the WIPP facility, which was constructed during the 1980’s.  Congress limited WIPP to the disposal of defense-generated transuranic wastes.  In 1998, EPA certified WIPP for safe, long-term disposal of TRU wastes.

In February 2014, DOE suspended operations at WIPP following an accidental radiation release and unrelated underground fire.  DOE spent nearly three years on recovery operations at an estimated cost of approximately $1.5 billion, including NWP’s management and operations contract.  DOE is still working to return the underground ventilation back up to pre-accident levels, which is expected to push the total bill for the recovery closer to $2 billion.

Additional information is available on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website at http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/recovery.html.

NAS Hosts LLW Management and Disposition Workshop

On October 24-25, 2016, the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, Division on Earth and Life Studies, of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine hosted a low-level radioactive waste management and disposition workshop.  The workshop was held at the Keck Center of the National Academies, which is located at 500 Fifth Street NW in Washington, DC.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) is responsible for the cleanup of the sites used by the federal government for nuclear weapons development and nuclear energy research.  DOE-EM cleanup involves retrieval, treatment, storage, transportation, and disposition of hundreds of different radioactive and hazardous solid and liquid wastes.

Low-level radioactive waste—which is defined by exclusion as waste that does not meet the statutory definitions for spent nuclear fuel, high-level radioactive waste, or transuranic waste—is physically and chemically diverse, ranging from lightly contaminated soils and building materials to highly irradiated nuclear reactor components.  It is the most volumetrically significant waste stream (millions of cubic meters) being generated by the cleanup program.

The workshop considered similarities between successful case studies, in which unique disposition pathways have been developed to address low-level radioactive wastes, and explored ways to extend these similar characteristics to problematic wastes—i.e., low-level radioactive wastes currently without a clear disposition pathway.

Specifically, the workshop explored:

  •   the key physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics of low-level radioactive waste that govern its safe and secure management (i.e., packaging, transport, storage) and disposition, in aggregate and for individual waste-streams; and,
  •   how key characteristics of low-level waste are incorporated into standards, orders, and regulations that govern the management and disposition of low-level radioactive waste in the United States and in other major waste-producing countries.

For additional information about the meeting, please go to http://dels.nas.edu/Upcoming-Workshop/Level-Radioactive-Waste-Management/AUTO-6-58-82-D?bname=nrsb.

Final Supplement Issued for
 Yucca Mountain EIS

In early May 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published the staff’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) supplement on a proposed permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.  The supplement analyzes potential impacts on groundwater and surface groundwater discharges and determines all impacts would be “small.”


The May 2016 NRC document that supplements Environmental Impact Statements that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) prepared on the proposed repository.  DOE issued the final EIS in 2002, then supplemented it in June 2008 when it submitted a construction authorization application to the NRC.

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the NRC is to adopt DOE’s EIS to the extent practicable.  In September 2008, NRC staff recommended adoption of DOE’s Environmental Impact Statements, but noted the need to supplement the study of groundwater effects in the Yucca Mountain aquifer beyond DOE’s analyzed location at the site boundary.  DOE ultimately deferred to the NRC to prepare the supplement.


In August 2015, NRC published a draft of the supplement for public comment.  (See LLW Notes, July/August 2016, pp. 28-29.)  During the 91-day comment period, NRC staff conducted public meetings to present the report and receive comments in Rockville, Maryland and in Las Vegas and Amargosa Valley, Nevada.

The NRC received more than 1,200 comments on the draft supplement, including comment letters and oral comments.  The NRC staff’s responses to these comments, and descriptions of changes made to the final report in response to comments, can be found in Appendix B of the supplement.

The supplement to the Yucca Mountain EIS is available on the NRC’s website at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr2184/.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.