Peter Van der Does: Decommissioning dream team?

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Peter Van der Does, of Brattleboro, who is a member of the New England Coalition. The views are his own.

Turn over any rock in a fertile area and you’ll find all kinds of creepy-crawly things hiding underneath. So it is with companies: The longer a company has been around, the more likely it is that somewhere colossal screw-ups are hiding in the closet. True, muckraking won’t get the decommissioning job done, but there is much the general public should be aware of.

First of all, in spite of the new ownership, the core partners in the NorthStar decommissioning project remain the same: NorthStar, Areva, Burns McDonnell and Waste Control Specialists.

NorthStar was originally formed by the merger of LVI Services and NCM in a stock swap. Both were in the buildings disassembly business but are now suing each other. Each claims the other knowingly made false representations in financial statements leading up to the merger. NCM seeks damages of $223 million and additionally $15 million under a merger clause. The case is in the chancery court of Delaware. Hopefully the new ownership saves the day.

NorthStar’s main partner, Areva, is a French company with projects worldwide. Areva nearly went under, according to Michael Stothard in the Financial Times.

From 2014-2016 Areva accumulated losses of nearly 7 billion euros. Luckily, the French government intervened, using its electrical utility, EDF, to become majority owner.

Guillaume Errard detailed Areva’s spectacular construction delays and cost overruns in Le Figaro. Areva started construction on the Flamanville EPR reactor in 2007 and it should have been completed by 2012. Costing 10.5 billion euros, it more than tripled its original estimate and won’t be finished until next year. The French nuclear regulatory agency, Authorité de Securité Nucleaire, says the cover on the EPR reactor is substandard. For a fun read about Areva’s design for an ISFSI (independent spent fuel storage installation), see Martin Leers’ article in the Journal de l’energie.

The Finnish electrical utility TVO hired Areva to build a reactor at Olkiluoto but is now suing Areva for time and cost overrides. The reactor, due to be finished in 2009, is still under construction. Its costs skyrocketed from 3.5 billion euros to 8 billion euros, according to Juhana Rossi’s article in The Wall Street Journal. Maybe Areva is good at lowballing bids to get projects?

Burns and McDonnell has projects internationally and may win the bid to construct a new terminal for the Kansas City Airport. They stand to gain nearly a billion dollars … provided no one reads the August 2013 Kansas City Star Kevin Collison article about the runway foundation they built at Branson Airport which collapsed two years later. Branson Airport is suing for $70 million. To be fair, Burns and McDonnell were just the engineers, not the builders. Burns and McDonnell were successfully sued by a dozen farms in Missouri for $10 million. The suit, decided in Clinton County (Missouri) Circuit Court (case #10CN- CV00900, blamed them for having been consultants to a tannery on the use of sludge containing hexavalent chromium which was spread on farmland leading to serious health problems.

Waste Control Specialists, another partner in NorthStar, was recently prevented from merging with its largest competitor in an antitrust suit. WCS used the “failing firm” defense claiming that without the merger it risked going out of business. See: Delaware District Court, United States v. Energy Solutions.

I am confident that NorthStar’s partners will do a good job taking things apart. Let’s hope we don’t wind up paying for the cleanup if things go wrong. Let’s hope they don’t bury the irradiated concrete rubble on site, and, finally, let’s hope they decommission to 10 millirem like at Maine Yankee and not 25 millirem, which is what NorthStar can get away with.

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