Vermont seeks $60 million fund for Entergy plant to keep running
MONTPELIER — The Department of Public Service said Entergy Nuclear has not been a trusted partner to the state of Vermont, but in filings last week it said Entergy should be allowed to operate the Vermont Yankee reactor until the end of 2014 to facilitate a smooth shutdown.
Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said Friday that if Entergy had not decided in August to shut down Vermont Yankee, the Shumlin administration would have recommended against further operation of the state’s only nuclear power plant.
“They can’t be relied on for the next 20 years to operate in a manner that fulfills the conditions of any certificate,” Recchia said.
The state — and parties to Entergy’s pending case before the Public Service Board — submitted conditions it wants the PSB to attach to any new certificate of public good for Yankee. The Department of Public Service acts as the public’s advocate to the quasi-judicial PSB.
Vermont Yankee has been operating without a certificate of public good since March 21, 2012, but does have a federal license amendment from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate until 2032.
Among the conditions sought by the state is a $60 million fund to ensure that the Yankee site in Vernon be returned to “green field” status, so it can be used for further economic development. Entergy’s position is that no additional funds are needed.
Entergy’s current plans call for Yankee to be mothballed for upward of 50 years, under an NRC-approved scenario called “SAFSTOR.” After 50 years, decommissioning, which typically takes about 10 years, would occur. What would eventually happen to the highly radioactive nuclear fuel is currently not yet determined.
State officials, as well as government agencies such as the Windham Regional Commission in Brattleboro, have gone on record asking for a much shorter timeline, to maintain high levels of employment and get the Vernon site ready for a new use.
Recchia said the state, in its filings, did not specifically ask for a speedy decommissioning, but that the Vermont Yankee site should be available for “unrestricted” use in the future.
The Vernon site is served by high-voltage transmission lines, as well as a new electrical substation owned by Vermont Electric Power Co., or VELCO, a consortium of Vermont utilities.
Entergy, in its own filing, said Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning trust fund is adequate to cover both the cost of the NRC-required radiological cleanup and the state’s requirement for a “green field” restoration.
The company said it had been a “fair partner” to the state, and that Vermont Yankee contributed to the goal of controlling greenhouse gas emissions. It added that its operation through 2014 and its $65 million payroll would help the economy of the region and state.
Robert Williams, spokesman for Entergy in Vermont, declined to comment on the Entergy filing, which was prepared by attorney John Marshall of St. Johnsbury, a lawyer with the firm of Downs Rachlin Martin.
Recchia said the site restoration is an important goal for the state, as is post-shutdown economic development payments to address what he called the short-term economic disruption when 650 people lose their jobs at Yankee.
The state still should remain skeptical of Entergy, given its track record, Recchia said, including lying to state regulators about the existence of underground pipes carrying radioactive material. Entergy officials told the PSB in 2009 that such pipes did not exist, but were caught in that “misstatement” when Vermont Yankee discovered an extensive radioactive tritium leak at the plant in early 2010.
Entergy, in its own filings with the PSB, said the Atomic Energy Act removes radioactive issues from state review — it is pre-empted by federal regulators.
Entergy said it must therefore be considered “a fair partner” under Section 248, the state law governing certificates of public good.
Entergy likewise said the PSB should not consider the track record of other nuclear utilities in decommissioning when forecasting the financial needs of Vermont Yankee.
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group also called for an increased state role in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning.
VPIRG said Entergy had “a financial interest in waiting a very long time to begin appropriate decommission” because it could pocket any excess funds that would accumulate after 50 years of delay.
Entergy has said that by waiting, the risk of radiation exposure for workers would be substantially lower, that less low-level radioactive waste would be created, and that the decommissioning trust fund would be able to grow.
Entergy, which bought Vermont Yankee in 2012, inherited Yankee’s dedicated trust fund and has not contributed to the fund, which was created with funding from its original ratepayers.
Recchia said he expected the PSB would make a decision on the permit by the end of the year.