A Site Assessment Study released by Entergy Vermont Yankee Friday significantly raises the estimated cost of retiring the Vernon plant. The report also provides an early estimate of the timetable for decommissioning, which Entergy says could begin in about three decades.
Previous estimates pegged the cost of decommissioning Vermont Yankee at about $1 billion. The newly released study predicts a price tag of about $1.24 billion. That’s twice the worth of the plant’s decommissioning trust fund, which currently has about $640 million.
The numbers are important because of a 2013 settlement between Entergy and the state. In the deal, Entergy agreed not to delay dismantling the plant for the 60-year SAFSTOR period allowed by regulators after the plant closes in December. Instead, Entergy promised to begin decommissioning when it has enough money to complete the process.
Bill Mohl is president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. He says the fund should be sufficient in about three decades.
"Assuming the cost estimate that we provide, assuming what the NRC growth assumption is," Mohl says, "you would have a starting point for the actual decommissioning in the 2040s."
About $368 million of the decommissioning cost is earmarked for moving spent nuclear fuel from the reactor into casks approved for onsite storage. Entergy says the transfer should be complete by 2021. Entergy has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to use the decommissioning trust fund to cover fuel management costs.
But Mohl says the company may finance some of those costs with funds from litigation with the federal government over its failure to provide a promised waste storage site.
Chris Recchia is the commissioner of the state Public Service Department, which represents ratepayers in utility issues. Recchia says Entergy’s cost estimates are in line with the state’s expectations. He thinks decommissioning may start before 2040.
"The first focus, I think for all of us, needs to be on the spent fuel pool and moving spent fuel from the pool into dry cask storage," Recchia says. "If we can do that, and get reimbursement as the federal government has committed to do for those funds, then those are available for decommissioning at that point."
The Site Assessment Study was requested by the state to help with planning for the site’s restoration and eventual re-use. Recchia says the report needs more study, but he says it basically fulfills those expectations.
Relations between Vermont and Entergy have been contentious in the past. Entergy's Bill Mohl says he hopes the report ushers in a new era.
"We want to be a good partner with the community and we want to work together," Mohl says. "We’ll certainly run into things that we have a difference of opinion on and we’re going to have to work through them. But being transparent and having those open discussions is absolutely critical from our perspective."
The study also includes cost-estimates for immediate decommissioning, which Vermont officials also requested. The estimates range from $1.3 to $1.9 billion. But Mohl says the trust fund doesn’t have the money to make that option feasible.