State Asks Feds For More Sway Over Vermont Yankee Decommissioning

Mar 6, 2015

In an ongoing legal battle that could affect the timing, and price tag, of dismantling the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, state officials are asking federal regulators for more influence over the decommissioning process.

Last month, the company that owns Vermont Yankee presented the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with its plan for decommissioning the nuclear power plant. But Commissioner of Public Service Chris Recchia says the proposal has flaws that could delay the decommissioning process, and leave Vermont taxpayers holding a portion of the bill.

Recchia and other state officials, including the attorney general, are asking the NRC to force Entergy to address Vermont’s concerns.

“We want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to engage with us constructively to help leverage those issues that Vermont feels important to be addressed, and not just automatically support the industry, which unfortunately looking at history has been the practice,” Recchia says.

Recchia says he’s hopeful however that in this case, the NRC will be more willing to show at least some deference to the state. That’s because Vermont Yankee, unlike plants that have been decommissioned in the past, is privately owned, and operates outside the utility model that would otherwise give Vermont heightened sway over its fate.

“And so I am hopeful that he Nuclear Regulatory Commission will step up and engage in this new world that we’re in, of decommissioning privately owned plants in a safe and cost-effective way that is respective of state’s rights where they’re located,” Recchia says.

The letter from the state to the NRC is signed by Recchia, Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Commissioner of Environmental Conservation David Mears, and Commissioner of Health Harry Chen. The concerns center on the timing, and financing, of the decommissioning fund.

Specifically, Recchia says he has concerns about Entergy using more than $200 million from the decommissioning fund to cover the costs of managing spent radioactive fuel.

The state also wants the NRC to bar Entergy from using decommissioning funds to pay for emergency planning and response.

The more money Entergy pulls from that fund now, according to Recchia, the longer it’ll take for the fund to have enough money to complete the decommissioning process.

“Vermonters’ have an interest in that fund and we need to make sure that it’s spent appropriately,” Recchia says.

Recchia says the state also wants to make sure that Entergy doesn’t skirt financial liability for decommissioning the plant, and leave Vermont taxpayers or ratepayers on the hook for a portion of the expenses.

The proposal Entergy submitted with the NRC, according to Recchia, would end the company’s financial liability when the decommissioning fund hits a zero balance. But Recchia says that if the fund goes empty before the plant is decommissioned, then Entergy needs to be responsible for money needed to complete the project.

Despite concerns raised with the NRC, Recchia says he’s hopeful the state can achieve a good result.

“I am still very optimistic that at the growth rate the fund has been growing at, and if we can control how it’s being spent to minimize the withdrawals, that we really should be able to (have the plant decommissioned) in the late 2020s early 2030s, rather than the 2050s or 2060s,” Recchia says.