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Vt. Yankee citizens panel reviews decommissioning memo



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — The Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel got its first look at a memorandum of understanding hammered out earlier this year between the administration of Gov. Phil Scott and both Entergy Nuclear and NorthStar Group Services Inc.

The memorandum of understanding, with the state Department of Public Service, Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Public Health and Attorney General, also won the endorsement of the Vernon Planning Commission, the New England Coalition and Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe.

Only the Conservation Law Foundation, which was part of the negotiations, failed to back the agreement that provides close to $200 million in new assurances to sweeten the deal. In it, NorthStar would purchase Vermont Yankee and its assets and decommission the shuttered Vernon nuclear plant and restore the site.

The memorandum also establishes site restoration standards for the Vernon site, which includes radiological dose limits that are more stringent than those imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Despite the memorandum, the proposed sale — which Entergy and North Star hope to complete by the end of this year — still needs a certificate from the state Public Utility Commission and a license transfer from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The State of Vermont and the New England Coalition, as intervenors, agreed to drop their requests for a formal Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing on the federal license transfer if the Public Utility Commission approves the memorandum.

Coalition spokesman Clay Turnbull told a gathering last week, “Four of our principal concerns have been at least partially addressed,” including NorthStar’s trying to reach the lower residual radiation standard for the site and agreeing to limit demolition debris fill to material that contains no reactor-derived radionuclides.

Turnbull also acknowledged NorthStar’s agreement to a “stakeholder group” to advise decommissioning. And he said the coalition would continue to press to have the site — which Vernon officials hope to develop as an energy-generating facility — set aside as a nature preserve.

Rich Holschuh, who worked on the memorandum as a representative of the native tribes, said he was pleased that NorthStar agreed to contract with a professional “cultural expert” to help develop a plan that addresses how the site is restored in relation to tribal artifacts that may be on the site.

Ann Darling of Easthampton, Mass., called on NorthStar to recognize that, “People who are doing the public engagement can’t hide behind ‘we meet all the regulations, we’ve met all the standards’ and expect us to feel reassured. ... A truly participatory public engagement process will respect us as experts on our lives. NorthStar is not only accountable to its shareholders. NorthStar is also accountable to the public and to many generations of people who will come after us.”

The tone of the meeting grew more heated over a presentation of a new proposal by NorthStar and project partner, Waste Control Specialists — both of which have been purchased by the private equity firm company, J.F. Lehman and Co. — with NorthStar CEO Scott State also taking on a leadership role of Waste Control Specialists.

State described efforts by Waste Control Specialists to restart creation of a “consolidated interim storage facility” at the 14,000-acre West Texas site where Vermont Yankee’s low-level radioactive waste has been shipped, so that its high-level waste can be sent as well, pending approval of a permanent federal waste repository. Citizens advisory panel member Lissa Weinmann of Brattleboro questioned State on reports that this plan would require action by Congress, as well as approvals by the federal Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The approach that we’re considering here would not require a change to the law as it exists today,” State said.

Following back-and-forth questions on legislation filed in April to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Weinmann sought more information.

“Up to this point, I’ve been very happy with Scott State’s responses, but clearly, he’s obfuscating the language and is fully aware that a change in law will be required to move the casks from Vermont to Texas,” she later told a reporter. “To say there’s no law required in order to do that is disingenuous. It has moved his credibility down a few notches, in my book.”

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