Report studies socioeconomic impacts of plant closures

15 October 2020

The socioeconomic impacts of nuclear power plant closures are swift, severe and lasting, and the effects are felt more deeply in rural communities where most plants are located, a new report from the Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative has found.

San Onofre in California is now undergoing decommissioning after being permanently retired in 2013 (Image: SCE)

Socioeconomic impacts from nuclear power plant closure and decommissioning was prepared using federal funds under an award from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA), which is an agency of the Department of Commerce. The collaborative, which is a US not-for-profit organisation that describes itself as a "nuclear decommissioning clearinghouse", is working with EDA to identify and develop best practices to assist communities affected by the loss of jobs and tax revenue due to nuclear power plant closures.

The operation of a typical nuclear plant contributes at least USD400 million per year of economic impact to a plant's host region as well as being a key source of economic livelihood for over 1000 plant employees and contractors, the report notes. Nuclear plant employees and their families strengthen host community capacity through their participation in a wide range of civic, cultural and volunteer opportunities. Thus, the socioecomic "ripple effects" of a plant closure are "swift, sever and widespread", with local public services such as schools and emergency responders, tending to suffer significant cutbacks, it says.

"These communities continue to face real losses and ongoing hardships," Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative Executive Director Jim Hamilton said. "While there is increased attention being paid to the plight of these communities, economic development planning remains a challenge and many struggle finding the capacity to begin their recovery."

Many highly skilled workers and their families relocate, procurement of local goods and services is significantly reduced, tax payments to local towns plummet and housing values erode, the report says. A series of factors continue to hamper recovery efforts, it adds. These include: chronic resource limitations, which hinder community efforts to plan for and mitigate socioeconomic impacts from plant closure; a steep learning curve, with no clear roles for community engagement, dialogue and collaboration; and the long-term presence of used nuclear fuel, which hinders economic development work and presents an "enduring barrier" to economic recovery.

"As more nuclear power plants come off-line, the socioeconomic impacts from plant closure will continue to mount on host communities," the report notes. At the national level, "modest amounts" of federal funding have been recently appropriated to support economic development planning; states have begun to increase their role in the closure and decommissioning process; and host communities are seeking opportunities to have greater control over their economic future after a plant closure.

Recovery planning is best undertaken while the plant is still operational, the Collaborative said. Early planning for post-closure economic recovery at the community, county and regional level "neither accelerates nor precipitates" the decision to close the plant. At the federal level, improved coordination of agencies focusing on additional research, efficient deployment of resources and the provision of planning assistance would be a "demonstrable benefit" to host communities. The establishment of a national network of nuclear closure communities would also improve the effectiveness of the federal response, the report says.

In addition, the report calls for additional research and knowledge development to improve understanding of the socioeconomic relationship between the plant and the host community; create a more robust understanding of the efficacy of various economic development efforts; increase appreciation of the local opportunity costs associated with "stranded assets" due to the presence of used nuclear fuel; improve the practice of community engagement; and explore property stewardship models to facilitate repositioning of decommissioned sites to their "highest and best" use.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News