Entergy files to do away with 10-mile emergency zone
VERNON, Vt. — Owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant want to do away with the 10-mile emergency planning zone surrounding its reactor after it ceases operation at the end of this year.
The zone, which includes portions of Northfield, Bernardston, Gill, Greenfield, Leyden, Colrain, and Warwick in Massachusetts as well as 11 towns in Vermont and New Hampshire, is no longer needed, Entergy Nuclear Operations Site Vice President Christopher J. Wamser wrote in the company’s formal request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for exemption.
“ENO has performed an analysis which shows that, within 15.4 months after shutdown, the spent fuel stored in the spent fuel pool will have decayed to the extent that the requested exemptions may be implemented at VY without any additional compensatory actions,” Wamser wrote in a March 14 letter, seeking approval by Dec. 1, 2015.
If the request is approved, the zone would be eliminated two years from now, on April 15, 2016.
By then, according to Entergy’s analysis, enough of the spent fuel will have been removed from the spent fuel pool that it will have cooled down to the point that danger of a radioactive release will no longer require an emergency planning zone, said NRC Neil Sheehan.
“For a fair amount of time, they will still have their spent fuel pool in operation,” said Sheehan, although he acknowledges that Entergy has two years from the time the reactor shuts down to submit a Post Shutdown Activities Report detailing — among other things — its schedule for moving radioactive waste from the 40-foot-deep spent fuel pool to more stable dry cask storage. “The concern is if they were somehow to lose water in the pool, could the water heat up, resulting in a release of radioactivity?”
“Decomm-issioning power reactors present a low likelihood of any credible accident resulting in radiological releases requiring offsite protective measures because of the permanently shut down and defueled status of the reactor,” Entergy noted in its filing. “An emergency operations facility is not required. The control room or other location can provide for the communication and coordination with offsite organizations for the level of support required.”
Sheehan said, “The reality is that the fuel begins to cool rapidly once it’s out of the reactor, and the radioactivity levels drop as well. If they were to lose water in the pool, they would have ample time and means by which to make up that water.”
But Deborah Katz, president of Citizens Awareness Network, called the proposal “ludicrous.” She said “It flies in the face of what happened at Fukushima,” Japan, two years ago, referring to the meltdown accident at the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plant.
“They’re right, the potential for a meltdown in the core is minimal” once the Vernon plant moves its fuel out of the pool. “But one of the things that happened at Fukushima, was the meltdown of fuel in the pool. And they had a lot less fuel in the pool than at Vermont Yankee, like 100 tons each pool, versus 530 tons. If there’s a fuel pool accident, the fuel will heat up and begin to off-gas. Once that starts to happen, there is no way for Vermont Yankee to potentially stop this. And if that’s the case, the issue of having an emergency planning zone is essential until the fuel is in dry cask storage.”
That won’t take place until 2021, according to the agreement hammered out between plant owner Entergy and the State of Vermont.
Katz said Entergy’s request, which Sheehan pointed out was also made by Yankee Atomic Electric Co. for the 10-mile zone surrounding Rowe as part of its 1995-2007 decommissioning, is a cost-saving move for financially strained Entergy.
“They just want to save money, but it’s at the expense of public safety,” said Katz. “That’s unacceptable.”
Gill Selectman John Ward said, “The request raises concerns for me, personally. I’m not convinced they can do the calculations to say there would not be any kind of an issue in 15.4 months.”
Sheehan said there would be opportunities for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its counterparts in the three affected states and 18 affected communities.
But MEMA spokesman Peter Judge called the dissolution of the “plume exposure pathway” zone “standard operating procedure” that doesn’t require any special consideration on the part of FEMA or MEMA.
“At some point, the NRC determines that because the site is no longer active, there is no need for an EPZ, because the threat of a (radioactive) plume is totally minimized beyond a particular distance, so plans for evacuation no longer have to be in place when it’s determined no plan has to be in place.”
As a practical matter, Judge said, the dissolution of the 10-mile emergency zone means there’s been an NRC determination that local emergency officials no longer need to have annual drills, but mutual-aid agreements remain in place.
“It’s not like we fold our tents and go away,” he said.
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You can reach Richie Davis at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269