NRC not ready to grant planning exemption to Vt. Yankee
BRATTLEBORO — Saying Entergy Corp. “is under no legal obligation” to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked Entergy for additional information before granting its request that it be exempted from costly studies and safety improvements.
“While the NRC staff fully understands your intentions to permanently shut down the Vermont Yankee facility, the staff also understands that Entergy is under no legal obligation to shut down the facility,” wrote Douglas Pickett, senior project manager for the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, in a letter sent to Entergy late last week.
Pickett said Entergy had already notified the NRC on Nov. 22 that it would not spend resources to perform the required post-Fukushima analysis for hardened vents, as well as prepare its overall post-Fukushima plan.
Fukushima, Japan, was the scene of a catastrophic nuclear plant failure in May 2011. The plant released radioactive material into the air after a tsunami struck the area.
“The staff is concerned that if your current plans change and you decide to enter an extended shutdown period as opposed to submitting the (NRC) certifications, Vermont Yankee would not be prepared to meet the requirements of the order on schedule,” Pickett said.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said Tuesday the NRC language was “very precautionary in nature,” but NRC knew Entergy planned to shut down Yankee during December 2014, depending on what fuel is left in the reactor.
And, Sheehan said, there is no requirement that Entergy inform NRC about its final date of operation, until it actually shuts down. But, he said, NRC’s two resident inspectors remained at Yankee and were aware of operations at the Vernon reactor.
Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams said Tuesday the company would supply additional information requested by NRC within the required 30 days, including a date for the hardened vent report.
Sheehan said Entergy had filed about seven requests for exemptions from various NRC requirements or regulations covering the last year of its operation. He said none of the exemptions had been granted yet and were still under review.
They vary from requests to replace on-shift control-room operators with certified fuel handlers and to allow the certified fuel handlers to declare emergency conditions on security or weather-related issues.
It requested a technical specification change to replace control room operators with certified fuel handlers, and to permit the relaxation of secondary containment requirements when moving fuel.
Sheehan said all those requests would be common for a nuclear plant stopping operation.
Vermont Yankee is one of about five nuclear reactors in the United States that are shutting down in the near future.
Williams said before Entergy made the decision to shut down Vermont Yankee last August, the company had planned to implement the Fukushima hardened-vent changes.
“Since we are planning on permanently ceasing operations at the end of 2014, which will moot the entire issue, we have asked to be excused from submitting a plan his year,” he said.
But, he said, until the issue becomes officially moot, the NRC is asking for additional information and a specific date for its plan.
Last year, the closure of five nuclear power plants were announced, Vermont Yankee, San Onofre in California, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, Crystal River in Florida and Oyster Creek in New Jersey. Of those, only Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek are still operating.
Since then, speculation has grown in the nuclear press than another six nuclear reactors, facing stiff competition for low natural-gas prices, might shut down as well.