Sanders, Welch Introduce Bill to Give States Greater Control Over Reactor Shutdown Plans

WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced the Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2020 today, which gives states a meaningful role in the development and approval of reactor shutdown plans and post-shutdown license transfers. The legislation is co-led in the Senate by Sen. Duckworth (D-Ill.), Sen. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and cosponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. King (I-Me.), Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Engel (D-N.Y.) in the U.S. House.

“Communities experiencing the safety and economic impacts of nuclear plant decommissioning deserve dedicated economic relief and a role in shaping those decommissioning plans for nuclear reactors near them, especially in light of the coronavirus and climate change crises,” Sanders said. “This input is especially critical given the potential for non-operational plants to sit for decades before removal and decontamination. The Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2020 would transform a process that is weighted almost entirely toward the power plant licensees into one that strikes a reasonable balance between licensees and the impacted communities.”

“Vermonters know first-hand that decommissioning a nuclear power plant has enormous economic and environmental impacts on states and neighboring communities,” said Welch. “It is essential that state and local leaders have a seat at the table throughout the decommissioning process. This commonsense legislation ensures the decommissioning process is transparent, inclusive and collaborative.”

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon was shuttered at the end of 2014 and ownership of the decommissioned plant was transferred in 2019. This bill would give affected states like Vermont an opportunity to weigh in on the new shutdown plan if there is a license transfer or other significant change to the decommissioning plan. Sanders and Welch first introduced an early version of the Nuclear Decommissioning Act in 2014, shortly after the closure of Vermont Yankee was announced.

The measure would also create several new grant programs to foster communication and information exchange between licensees and communities impacted by plant decommissioning and stranded nuclear waste, and to provide economic assistance to impacted communities. 

“The closure of Vermont Yankee has shown us how much local communities have at stake, in both the short and long term, when a plant shuts down, and also the great value that local leaders and citizens can offer at every step of the decommissioning process,” said Leahy. This legislation brings the benefits of those lessons to provide host communities across the United States a seat at the table.”

“Affected communities and state officials and should be able to have a meaningful role in the process of decommissioning nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Decommissioning Act would provide necessary transparency, public involvement and resources to those affected by nuclear plant decommissioning—including communities near Pilgrim, Yankee Rowe, and Vermont Yankee in Massachusetts,” Markey said. “I strongly support this legislation, which would give the Commonwealth a say in the decommissioning process and ensure that surrounding communities receive the federal funding they need to address the economic and social impacts posed by the closure of these plants and the presence of stranded nuclear waste.”

The legislation would require licensees to consult with the host state as well as state governments within 50 miles of the plant when drafting a proposed decommissioning plan, as well as require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to solicit public input on the proposed decommissioning plan. The NRC would have to evaluate and formally adopt or reject the input of the affected states.

If a host state supports the proposed plan or license transfer, the licensee can secure expedited NRC approval. Otherwise, the NRC must consider amending the proposed plan based on the host state’s recommendations.


To read a one page summary of the bill, click here.

To read a section by section outline of the bill, click here.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.