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NRC Eyes Decommisisoning Funds in Restructuring Statement

Fortnightly Magazine - October 15 1997

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a final policy statement on its intended approach to nuclear plant licensees as the electric industry moves toward greater competition.

While the NRC has concluded that its regulations can address future changes, it is considering revising its financial and assurance requirements for decommissioning funds.

The statement addresses the NRC's concerns about the adequacy of decommissioning funds and about the potential impact of economic deregulation, and the effect of various industry restructuring actions on the operational safety of reactors.

The NRC believes that increased competition may force some utilities to separate their systems into functional areas. As a result, some utilities could lose their label of "electric utility," as defined by NRC regulations. If that should occur, the NRC would require the licensee to meet the more stringent decommissioning funding-assurance requirements that apply to companies that don't qualify as a "utility" under the NRC rules. The company then would not be allowed to accumulate funds for decommissioning over the remaining terms of its operating licenses. Like most other licensees, the company would have to provide funding assurance for the full estimated cost of decommissioning, either through full up-front funding or by some allowable guarantee or surety mechanism.

The policy statement emphasized that the NRC retains the right to assess the timing of decommissioning trust fund deposits and withdrawals, as well as the liquidity of decommissioning funds for licensees that no longer are subject to rate regulation.

The NRC noted that no nuclear plant license may be transferred, directly or indirectly, without its consent. NRC consent also is needed for formation of a new holding company that controls an existing licensee.

The commission also proposed an amendment to its regulations requiring all nuclear plant licensees to prepare, proctor, and grade their initial reactor operator license exams and prepare their operating tests subject to NRC approval. The NRC will continue to administer the hands-on portion of the test, including a control room simulator exam.

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