Entergy to close Vt. Yankee in 2014
VERNON, Vt. — Saying the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant isn’t profitable enough in the current energy economy, its owners announced Tuesday they are shutting down the embattled reactor.
New Orleans based Entergy Corp. said it was closing the four-decade-old plant in 2014, at the end of its current fuel cycle, even as it was winning court battles intended to allow it another 20 years of operation.
Earlier this month, Entergy had won a major victory against the state in the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York over state jurisdiction over the future operation of the plant, located about five miles over the Northfield, Mass., border on the banks of the Connecticut River.
The plant has been the object of almost constant protest by area environmental and anti-nuclear groups since it opened. Though happy with the closure news, many of those critics now worry that the risks of an accident at the plant will be greater in the coming year as Entergy winds down its operations, and note that the plant’s tons of highly radioactive spent fuel will remain on site for the foreseeable future. Town officials in many Franklin County towns within the reactor’s 10-mile emergency evacuation zone were also relieved to hear about the aging plant’s closing.
In recent years, under Entergy ownership, the plant experienced radioactive tritium leaks into the ground water under the plant and saw some of its cooling towers crumble and fall from poor maintenance, heightening concerns of the nuclear plant’s critics, who for years also complained using the Connecticut’s waters for cooling endangered aquatic wildlife.
Entergy said Tuesday it would put the plant into what is called “safe store,” a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved plan which would essentially mothball the Vernon reactor for up to 70 years, waiting for radiation levels to subside before it is dismantled. Under the safe-store scenario, all fuel would be removed from the reactor and its spent fuel pool in stages and put into concrete and steel casks in a facility that is currently in place at the Vernon reactor.
The company cited as reasons for its decision the fact that Vermont Yankee, one of the smallest in the country, sells its 620 megawatts of electricity on the open market and doesn’t have power contracts with area utilities. The electricity market has been depressed in recent years.
The closing is expected to cost more than 600 jobs, although Entergy said the employment would remain steady until shut down in 2014, when the company would begin its decommissioning process. One Yankee middle manager estimated about half its workers live in Massachusetts.
“The NRC will continue its rigorous oversight of the plant through the rest of its operations and into and through decommissioning. We have a decommissioning process that details steps that would have to be taken by Entergy going forward,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
The New Orleans-based company has been battling with Vermont since 2010, when the Vermont Senate voted against Vermont Yankee operating for an additional 20 years. Lawmakers were concerned about the plant’s safety, age and misstatements by plant management about components at the reactor.
“This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us,” Leo Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Vermont Yankee has an immensely talented, dedicated and loyal workforce, and a solid base of support among many in the community. We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule was not the outcome they had hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.”
The decision to close Vermont Yankee was based on a number of financial factors, including low wholesale energy prices, high costs and what the company called a flawed market design that artificially deflates energy prices. The company cited competition from low price of natural gas.
Nuclear plants have been under significant price competition due to the recent natural gas boom in the United States. Vermont Yankee, among the oldest and smallest plants in the country and located in a state with one of the nation’s strongest anti-nuclear movements, had long been considered among the most likely to be shuttered.
Vermont Yankee opened in 1972 in Vernon. In the past, the plant has provided as much as a third of the state’s electrical supply. Currently, nearly all of its power is shipped to electric companies in neighboring states.
After being granted the federal license it also needed for continued operation, Entergy sued the state and won a first round in federal court in Brattleboro.
The state appealed but largely lost earlier this month. Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said the ruling worked out well in one respect: The court overruled a part of the lower-court decision saying the state had violated the U.S. Constitution by trying to demand cut-rate power from Vermont Yankee if it were allowed to continue operating.
The company employs about 630 people, a staffing level that will gradually be reduced as the plant moves through the stages of decommissioning.
The Rutland, Vt., Herald and the Associated Press contributed to this story