In the United States, the utilities pay the price of nuclear plant decommission, which costs an average $325 million per reactor. A fee of 0.1 to 0.2 cents per kilowatt-hour generated by nuclear power is automatically placed into a trust fund outside of the utilities' control. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees the status of these funds to guarantee that decommissioning costs are being met. Because a reactor's operating lifetime is projected long ahead of time, the utilities can easily calculate how much time they have to raise sufficient funds.

The decontamination process requires removal of all radioactive components from the plant site. Almost 100% of the radioactivity associated with a nuclear power plant is associated directly with the nuclear fuel. After decommissioning, this fuel is removed from the site. (It is vital that the Yucca Mountain waste disposal project be completed so that removal remains a viable option.) Of course, some radiation (virtually all of it low-level) remains on the site after fuel removal, mostly in the irradiated metals of the plant's piping. Decommission then enters a thorough decontamination phase. This node is not the place to describe the technical details of this process, but I will tell you that the process is formally known as DECON, and that the site is eventually rendered radiation-free and fit for other purposes. Much of the metal is recycled, as well.

It's worth noting that decommissioning and decontamination are two different things. Decontamination is a part of the decommissioning process. Utilities may choose to put the plant in SAFSTOR for up to 60 years and then dismantle the plant and put the site through DECON. This is what has happened to Three Mile Island Unit 2; when Unit 1 is decommissioned in 2014, both plants will be put through DECON simultaneously.

Living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant exposes you to .009 millirem a year. You are receiving 10 times that amount from the screen you are looking at right now. Living within 50 miles of a coal-fired plant will expose you to .03 millirem a year. Those numbers come from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Council on Radiation Protection. Believe it or not, themusic, most power companies do not want to harm their consumers. I won't even embarrass you by saying how much radiation you get per year from the Earth's crust.

I'll only lightly touch upon TMI, because that is a topic which tends to go nowhere. It was a terrible accident (a partial meltdown), but the public safety mechanisms worked mostly as they should have at that time. Suffice it to say that hundreds of environmental readings were taken around the plant after the accident, and all readings were well below health limits. In addition, because of the political maelstrom that resulted, far stricter safety regulations and processes were forced on the nuclear power industry, making accidents even more highly unlikely in today's plants.

As for the cost of Three Mile Island, TMI-2 cleanup itself cost approximately $973 million. General Public Utilities bore the brunt of this cost, and upheld the American tradition of passing the cost onto the consumer. Which explains why GPU was eventually bought out by FirstEnergy.

However, health-related costs are a different story. The nuclear power industry has an insurance pool set up to cover the effect of accidents on the public, and the American public is currently sitting on $9.5 billion worth of nuclear insurance protection. This insurance is paid for by the utilities, not by the government. Environmental agencies have challenged the constitutionality of such an insurance pool (with the obvious intent of hampering the nuclear industry), but the US Supreme Court upheld the legality of the insurance pool in 1978. $70 million was paid out of this pool to settle class action lawsuits associated with the Three Mile Island accident.

So, themusic, while I don't know how Canada handles things, I hope the above helps you understand who pays for the costs of nuclear power down here in the United States. While I certainly endorse a cleaner planet, I believe that the civic environmentalist method of working with power companies instead of against them holds the most promise for an efficient future. Having a firm grasp of the science doesn't hurt either.