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Vermont Yankee

Vt. Yankee decommissioning should begin soon, nuke plant critic says

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — As Vermont’s Public Service Board wrestles with whether to grant a Certificate of Public Good to Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear plant’s remaining 11 months of operation, taking into account a pending agreement with the state on decommissioning, it’s looking at terms of decommissioning.

Many testifying at the board’s public hearing last week criticized the agreement. They said it gives Entergy too much say in when its Decommissioning Trust Fund is sufficient to begin the termination process. New England Coalition spokesman Clay Turnbull testified that there is no reason to believe that funds are insufficient to decommission the plant immediately.

Despite testimony at the hearing that it would cost more than $800 million to decommission the 42-year-old Vernon reactor, Turnbull’s closing testimony at last week’s session pointed out that the trust fund, as of this past Dec. 31, totaled $606 million, and that Entergy’s estimate for decommissioning —apart from moving spent fuel from the spent fuel storage pool to dry storage — is estimated at $621 million.

“Money exists to start prompt decommissioning after shutdown,” said Turnbull. “So why wait?”

Originally, Entergy officials indicated they favored a “SAFSTOR” option for decommissioning that would allow up to 60 years to decommission the reactor, at which time Entergy plans to cease operations at the end of this year. An agreement last month between Entergy and the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin — requiring the Public Service Board to approve Entergy’s Certificate of Public Good by the end of March — allows for a quicker decommissioning process, along with Entergy payments of $25 million toward an estimated $48 million in site restoration costs as well as $5.2 million for clean energy development around the region, $10 million to help the Windham County economy adjust to plant closure of the plant and a transitional $5 million payment to the state.

Turnbull said that previous Public Service Board proceedings segregate the $621 million in decommissioning costs from $48 million for site restoration and $327 million for spent fuel management.

The board is still accepting public comments on the application for a certificate.

On the Web: http://psb.vermont.gov/docketsandprojects/public-comment?docket=7862

Mr. Turnbull is partly right. Non-nuclear parts of the plant and site facilities could be removed right away. The reactor building houses the fuel pool, safely storing used fuel until it is removed. The used fuel must remain in water for five years after it comes our of the reactor for "cooling" (actually generating heat at a low enough rate.) When the used fuel is removed from the pool after five years it is exposed to air inside a shielded container for transfer. If used fuel were exposed to air before five years it would overheat and crack or melt. This means that the reactor building and the pool cooling can't be torn down until five years have passed after reactor shutdown and the fuel is out of the pool.

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