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Nuclear plant fees to fund safety protections are set to increase

Fees that nuclear power plant owners pay to the state’s environmental and emergency management agencies for public safety protections will increase by $175,000 a year under a bill signed last week by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Beginning in July, the state’s five nuclear plant sites will each pay $650,000 a year to the Department of Environmental Protection, up from $550,000, and $275,000 a year to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, up from $200,000.

The fees to DEP fund its nuclear safety program, which includes radiation monitoring, power plant site visits, license reviews, emergency drills and inspections of radioactive waste shipments.

DEP regularly collects samples of air, water, milk, fish, sediment and vegetation around nuclear power plants to monitor for radiation.

The fee increase is necessary to pay for higher salaries, benefits and service costs and to replace aging equipment, DEP wrote in a financial assessment of the program for the General Assembly in May.

In recent years, the program spent less than the $2.75 million that the fee brought in annually because some salaries were frozen and “major equipment purchases were delayed,” DEP wrote. But the fee revenue plus the surplus carried over from lean years wouldn’t be enough to cover the program’s expenses by the end of 2016 without an increase.

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DEP needs to replace outdated communication, laboratory and field monitoring equipment, the agency wrote.

Each of the nuclear power plant operators, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., Exelon Nuclear and PPL Susquehanna, concurred with the fee increase last fall, writing to DEP that the adjustment “appears reasonable and appropriate.”

For PEMA, the fee covers the costs of planning, training and drills to prepare for emergencies at the plants. The increase is necessary to meet the rising cost of salaries, equipment and services since the fee was last raised in 2007, PEMA spokesman Cory Angell said.

The power companies supported the change, he said.

The legislation was amended by the House Environmental Resources and Energy committee in September to include an increase to the PEMA fee after the Senate unanimously passed the original version of the bill with just a DEP fee increase in June.

The final version of the bill was passed with broad support in both houses in the waning days of the legislative session last month.

In its analysis, DEP had urged the General Assembly to have the fee increase legislation in place “well in advance” of July 1, 2015, when the next payments are due.