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Nuke plant decommissioning deal delivers more money to Vermont



Rutland Herald
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The state of Vermont has struck an agreement with the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and the New York City demolition company that wants to buy it.

The deal increases financial assurances to the state for the plant’s accelerated decommissioning.

The new assurances come to close to $200 million, and include contributions from both Entergy Nuclear and NorthStar Group Services Inc.

A memorandum of understanding was filed with the Public Utility Commission late Friday afternoon, outlining the results of confidential talks that have taken place over the past two months between the Scott administration, the Vermont attorney general’s office, Entergy, NorthStar and intervenors in the case.

All but the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group with offices in Montpelier, signed off on the deal.

Agreeing to the settlement included Entergy’s most vocal critic, the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution. Also signing on was the Vernon Planning Commission, Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe.

In a joint statement released, Entergy and NorthStar said the agreement contained “significant milestones” that would “accelerate the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee by decades,” as well as contribute to the eventual re-use of the site.

When Entergy shut down Vermont Yankee, it said it would put the plant into cold storage and would clean it up by 2075. NorthStar estimates it could start decommissioning as early as 2019, no later than 2021. The project could be completed by 2026, no later than 2030.

The companies said the agreement provides increased financial contributions and assurances, as well as protocols and agreements with the state Agency of Natural Resources and Public Service Department about the nuclear decommissioning and site cleanup process.

The agreement calls for protocols for using the concrete rubble from the demolition at the Vermont Yankee site, as well as stricter radiation standards than required by the federal government.

Sandra Levine, senior staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said Sunday that the financial assurances were assurances only but not guarantees. She said CLF would continue to raise issues about the Entergy-NorthStar deal before the Public Utility Commission, which has to approve the sale and transfer of the plant’s certificate of public good.

“Vermonters are the losers,” she said. “In a rush to secure a possible — and by no means certain — quick cleanup of the site, the settlement excludes reasonable protection for Vermont communities. The deal Entergy and NorthStar proposed leaves Vermonters vulnerable to picking up the tab if something goes wrong.”

Levine added, “There’s some creative accounting going on here.”

She said CLF was concerned that Entergy could be “off the hook” if substantial and expensive problems arise in the decommissioning. Entergy has owned Vermont Yankee since 2002.

Entergy shut down Vermont Yankee in December 2014, citing unfavorable power contracts due to the increased supply of fracked natural gas in the New England market.

Unlike many nuclear power plants, Vermont Yankee was a merchant plant and sold its power on the open market and didn’t have any long-term power contracts.

Schuyler Gould, president of the New England Coalition, said Sunday the coalition believed the agreement would give Vermont more financial and environmental protection.

“I can’t say it answers all our issues, but on balance, we consider it a positive step forward,” Gould said. “We got what we could and we’re pleased with that.”

NorthStar has never demolished a commercial nuclear reactor, only university test reactors, he said. Its expertise is in demolishing 20-story buildings in New York City, Gould said.

Since NorthStar first made a bid for Yankee, it has been sold to J.F. Lehman & Co., a private equity firm headed up by John Lehman, who was the former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. Since then Lehman has also purchased WCS, which is slated to be one of NorthStar’s partners in the cleanup of Yankee. WCS, based in western Texas, runs one of the country’s only nuclear waste facilities.

Raymond Shadis, the longtime technical adviser to the coalition who was instrumental in closing the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, said in an email that the talks with NorthStar were “cordial and collegial.”

“NorthStar is NOT a pro-nuclear partisan, as was Entergy,” he wrote.

Gould said the PUC would now hold a public hearing about the proposed deal and he urged the public to study the deal and raise issues.

Entergy and NorthStar have asked the PUC to issue its decision by July 31, and they hope for a closing on Yankee by Dec. 31. The deal still has to get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well.