Feds, Developers Seek Second Life for Former Nuclear Plants — Bloomberg Environment

Steam rises out of the nuclear plant on Three Mile Island nuclear plant on March 26, 2019.

The plant closed in September, 40 years after it was the site of a partial meltdown.

Photographer: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Sylvia Carignan, Reporter — Dec. 12, 2019, 5:01 PM

Decommissioned nuclear power plants are an untapped but valuable real estate option for brownfield developers, industry practitioners and a Commerce Department official said Dec. 12.

“I believe that there are opportunities there,” said Ryan Smith, program analyst for the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.

The agency is partnering with the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative, a clearinghouse for best practices and other information related to the decommissioning process, to get the word out about the economic potential of redeveloping former nuclear power plants. The partners called brownfield developers to consider the sites as potential projects at a conference Dec. 12.

If the decommissioned sites become part of a redevelopment market, “the developers will follow,” said Randall Jostes, chief executive officer of Environmental Liability Transfer Inc.

Jostes’ company acquires contaminated sites to address their liabilities and prepare them for redevelopment. Jostes said he’s interested in buying one of the decommissioned nuclear power sites.

“Make these known to the brownfield development world, especially if you’ve gone to the community, and the community has agreed this is what we want to see,” said Jostes, speaking at the Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfield conference in Los Angeles.

‘Not Even Been Considered’

About 85 plants across the U.S. will eventually close over the next few decades, said Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative. Access to the closed plants is restricted, partially because nuclear waste is still being stored on site.

“Redevelopment has not even been considered a question to safely ask,” said Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative.

Long-term storage of nuclear waste is still a political issue, with Congress so far unable to decide whether to continue preparing Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a permanent storage site. For now, waste is stored at decommissioned plants around the country.

Brownfields are properties that are contaminated or potentially contaminated. The existence or perception of contamination can hurt the property’s real estate value and prospects for redevelopment.

Brownfields may be contaminated with many kinds of waste, including radioactive waste, but the stigma of handling spent nuclear fuel often turns developers away.

‘The Golden Eggs Stop Coming’

While they’re operating, nuclear plants provide high-paying jobs and make up much of the local tax base, Hamilton said.

“These plants are essentially golden egg laying geese,” he said at the conference. “However, when the plant closes, the golden eggs stop coming.”

Though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees much of the decommissioning process, that agency is not involved with the affected community’s economic development.

“Ultimately these are going to be market decisions made by market actors,” but providing information about the sites will help connect developers with sites, Smith said.

The collaborative plans to hold its first national conference on decommissioned power plants and redevelopment in 2020, Hamilton said.

Its partnership with the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration is funded by a national technical assistance cooperative agreement.

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