County planners call for early Vt. Yankee decommissioning
Franklin County has added its official collective voice to those calling for decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant sooner rather than later.
The executive committees of the Franklin Regional Planning Board and of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments have urged the state of Vermont and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission “to require prompt decommissioning of the plant,” to provide more time for town, regional and state agencies to take steps to buffer the area’s economy from Vermont Yankee job losses. Of 620 roughly workers, more than 100 live in Franklin County.
Entergy, which last year announced that it plans to cease operation of its 42-year-old plant at the end of this year for financial reasons, has been operating without a Vermont Public Service Board certificate of public good since expiration of its last one in March 2012.
In addition to “lessen(ing) the shock” to the economy, a more expedited decommissioning process than the SAFSTOR approach that might stretch out as long as 60 years would keep more employees at the plant much longer, increasing the institutional knowledge that would exist about how the plant is engineered and put together, Planning Director Margaret Sloan told the regional planning board in explaining the letter.
“The staff that currently operates the plant, that is most knowledgeable about it, may not be around in 40 or 50 or 60 years,” said Sloan, adding that kind of familiarity was “critical” when it came to decommissioning the Yankee Atomic plant in Rowe following its 1992 shutdown.
The COG and its planners also point to the greater financial risk that could occur by waiting for Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning Trust Fund, now totaling a little over $600 million, to accumulate, since Entergy makes no contributions to it but depends on investments to watch it increase to the $621 million estimated by plant owners as the cost of decommissioning.
“If the decommissioning process is delayed, we understand that the Decommissioning Trust must grow faster than inflation to cover the shortfall as well as maintain the plant during SAFSTOR. Not only are markets unpredictable, but this approach could lead to ‘higher risk’ investments in order to increase returns,” it says, pointing to Entergy seeking federal loans or loan guarantees to bridge the shortfall to ensure decommissioning can begin.
Sloan, pointing to the decommissioning experience of the Yankee Atomic site in Rowe, where Polychlorinated-biphenyls, metals and volatile organic compounds had to be cleaned up in the soil, also raised concerns about possible non-radiological decontamination of the Vernon site that might have to be cleaned up as another reason for expedited decommissioning.
“Leaving a brownfield site of this magnitude to remain for decades under SAFSTOR will damage the environment and blight the community and region,” the letter says, pointing to possible decline in property values.
Whether the state board has authority to set conditions for plant decommissioning as a condition of its certificate, which must be issued by the end of March to keep intact a Memorandum of Understanding negotiated last month between Entergy and the administration of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, is a matter of intense debate.
That agreement, which calls for compensation to be paid by Entergy to Windham County and the state, provides for a speedier decommissioning than 60 years, but allows Entergy to decide when that will take place.
You can reach Richie Davis at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269