Anti-nuclear Group Calls For Go-Slow Approach For Yankee Decommissioning

Sep 27, 2013

An anti-nuclear group is calling for a slow, deliberative decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Vermont Citizens Action Network says it opposes the 60-year decommissioning time frame that Entergy Vermont Yankee wants to follow.

But the group says it may take 20 years or so to safely dismantle the plant.

Entergy Vermont Yankee plans to shutdown the plant late next year. The company then has up to six decades to dismantle and decommission the plant under a government-approved process known as “SAFSTOR.”

Some Entergy critics – including Gov. Peter Shumlin – want the plant decommissioned as quickly as possible so the site can be used for a new power plant or other industry. But anti-nuclear activist Chris Williams says not so fast. Williams, the president of Vermont Citizens Action Network, is calling for a slower decommissioning timetable.

“You want to be slow and thorough about it. Going it and just taking the hottest parts out and putting them in containers and shipping them somewhere as immediate as possible is not a real good plan,” he said.

Williams said his sister organization, Citizens Awareness Network, has followed decommissioning efforts at several plants around the New England. He said when the Yankee Rowe plant in Massachusetts began decommissioning back in the 1990s, the dismantling was too hasty.  

“It was a learning process for the industry and part of that learning process was what not to do. And at Yankee Rowe, they just went in and literally started tearing the thing apart. There was extensive unnecessary exposure to radiation for the workers,” he said.

Williams is advocating what he called “planned decommissioning and site remediation.” He said it’s a variant of the SAFSTOR option that allows Entergy wants to pursue for decommissioning. Williams said 60-years is too long, but the process could take 20 years or so.

“The most important part of the process that we’re proposing here is number one, let’s work to get the fuel out of the pool as quickly as possible and into dry cask containers, (and) to keep the skilled workforce on for as long as they can,” he said.

Entergy has 13 dry casks on site now that hold spent nuclear fuel. The rest of the highly radioactive material is stored underwater in an above-ground pool inside the reactor building.

Entergy will have to file its decommissioning plan with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“They have to go in and do site surveys and make sure they are meeting all the criteria… that basically says: ‘Here’s how we can demonstrate to you that we are decommissioning and meeting all the clean-up criteria fully to federal standards,’” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said Entergy is allowed to set its own timetable, and NRC rules allow it to wait the entire 60 years. He said the Yankee Rowe plant took about 15 years to decommission and that NRC records do not show major violations during that time period.

Entergy signed an agreement with the state in 2002 that allows it to follow the 60-year SAFSTOR option.

Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said the Shumlin Administration wants to work with Entergy on a decommissioning timetable that restores the site quickly, and safely.

“We are reviewing how prior decommissionings in other places have worked, and the lessons learned from those. And we’re trying to incorporate those into our thinking. But at the moment we don’t have a schedule in mind,” he said.