Nuke plant says cleanup $5M under budget

Last modified: 12/22/2015 10:10:36 AM
VERNON, Vt. — Entergy Nuclear is $5 million under budget in its decommissioning of Vermont Yankee, Entergy Nuclear officials said last week.

But Christopher Wamser, site vice president for the Vermont Yankee plant, declined to say how Entergy was reaching those savings and exactly how much has been spent. And company officials again said it was under no obligation to disclose its spending, except in general terms.

“The team at the station is doing a very good job,” Wamser said.

The Shumlin administration and Entergy Nuclear continued the power struggle about how Entergy is using the former nuclear power station’s decommissioning trust fund, which has dropped $70 million in the past 11 months, ever since the plant shut down Dec. 29, 2014 and Entergy started the decommissioning process.

The trust fund, which was at $665 million last December, had dipped to $595 million because of withdrawals and market forces, although the most recent trust fund figures released Friday showed the fund had rebounded to $610 million, but with millions of dollars in withdrawals from Entergy still pending.

Entergy has estimated that it will cost $1.24 billion to decommission the Vernon reactor, clean up all the radioactivity and store the high-level radioactive waste until a federal repository is built.

Wamser told fellow members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel that Entergy was $5 million under its project budget. To date, Entergy has received permission from the NRC to withdraw $76 million, more than has been actually withdrawn.

Panel member William Irwin, the state’s radiological health chief with the Department of Health, said he wanted “a better accounting (of) income and outgo.”

“There is a great concern that the money is going to run out,” Irwin said. If the state knew what the money was being spent on, he said, the state could act to stop it.

“The fund was built on the payment of ratepayers over the decades of operation and they deserve to know better,” Irwin said.

While Entergy Nuclear bought Vermont Yankee from a group of New England-based utilities in 2002, it has never contributed a dollar to the decommissioning trust fund.

Irwin said he would be interested in how actual expenditures compared to Entergy’s decommissioning plan, or PSDAR, which was submitted to the NRC.

Joseph Lynch, Entergy spokesman, said the fund has shrunk because of changes in the stock and bond markets. The Vermont Yankee trust fund is at the Mellon Bank in “conservative” investments.

But the devil is in the details, and the state has been contesting some of Entergy’s withdrawals from the fund, including its property tax bills from both Vernon and the state.

Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the state’s issue was really with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and not Entergy. Entergy is only requesting the same that other nuclear power plants have been approved for, he said.

He said the NRC and its regulations were “unprepared” to deal with merchant nuclear plant’s decommissioning. And he said Vermont was pushing issues that hadn’t been challenged before by other states.

While the NRC doesn’t have any rules that deal with decommissioning, he said, the process is about to start. But, he said, the rules were “six years down the road,” and hopefully, by then, Vermont Yankee will be on the road to decommissioning.

After the meeting, Entergy Nuclear spokesman Martin Cohn said Entergy is following NRC regulations, and it didn’t have to disclose how it was spending the trust fund until an annual report, which will be filed in March 2016. He said Entergy is making a great effort at “transparency” by posting all communication with government agencies on its decommissioning website.

But, he said, a detailed explanation of Entergy’s spending would not be forthcoming, despite requests from the public and state officials.


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