The owners of Vermont Yankee are asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to cut the number of personnel it assigns to some emergency operations. If approved, the staff changes would take effect when Yankee stops operating later this year. The Shumlin Administration is still evaluating the proposal.
The proposed reduction in emergency staff is one aspect of a larger request by Entergy Vermont Yankee. The company wants to end all emergency planning support in the 10-mile evacuation zone surrounding Vermont Yankee. Entergy spends about $2 million annually on regional emergency response planning. It says that expense won’t be necessary once the plant shuts down and moves its remaining fuel to the spent fuel storage area.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says that decision could take a year.
"In the meantime, this is an issue that’s going to come up sooner than that," Sheehan says. "Once they insert the control rods for the last time later this year, will it be sufficient for Vermont Yankee to reduce the number of emergency response positions and still be able to adequately address an emergency?"
Earlier this month, the NRC asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to weigh in on the staffing question. The changes would affect the plant’s Joint Information Center, which provides briefings to reporters and information to the public. Sheehan says FEMA is responsible for emergency planning outside a nuclear facility while the NRC handles internal planning.
"So the question is, "Sheehan says, "will they still be able to meet the needs of the community once the plant is shut down with that level of staffing that they’re considering?"
The NRC has asked FEMA to fast track its response. Sheehan says that’s partly because the December 29 shut-down date is fast approaching. But he says it’s also because emergency drills are coming up this fall, and Entergy wants to gauge the effectiveness of its new staffing proposal.
But the Shumlin Administration says it hasn’t made a decision on Entergy’s immediate or longer-term requests to the NRC. Chris Recchia is the commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department, which represents the public interest in utility issues
"I think clearly there is a reduction of risk with the shutdown of the facility," Recchia says. "What the right staffing is ... and how it is validated, we still are evaluating."
Recchia opposes Entergy’s request to the NRC to eliminate the emergency planning zone before the spent fuel is stored more permanently in dry casks on the plant property. That’s not likely to happen for at least five or six years.
"When it moves to dry cask, we can have further discussions after that," Recchia says. "But I think while the spent fuel is in the pool, offsite management needs to be maintained in some fashion." But Recchia adds that he hopes to work through the issue cooperatively with Entergy. He says many more decisions lie ahead for the NRC, Entergy and the state.