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Citizen watchdogs fear ‘cheap and dirty’ Vt. Yankee decommissioning



Recorder Staff
Friday, November 11, 2016

Entergy Nuclear’s announcement Tuesday that it plans to sell its Vermont Yankee plant to subsidiaries of NorthStar Group Services Inc. “to accelerate decommissioning and site restoration by decades” came under immediate criticism from opponents who fear a “dirty and cheap” cleanup of the Vernon reactor.

The New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, which has intervened legally against Vermont Yankee since before its 1972 startup, said Friday it’s poised to do so again “to advocate for best-practices radiological cleanup” of the site “and state-of-the-art nuclear fuel waste storage and protection.”

Entergy will also seek to transfer its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses to NorthStar, of New York, and has announced plans to accelerate by two years transfer of all spent nuclear fuel to dry cask storage to 2018. That expedited schedule is contingent on NRC approval of license amendment requests by dry-storage manufacturer Holtec International.

Entergy’s sale — expected to be complete by the end of 2018 — depends on a license transfer by the NRC and approval by the Vermont Public Service Board. Also, Entergy and NorthStar will ask the Public Service Board to approve “proposed site restoration standards that are generally consistent with those of other regional decommissioning projects,” the plant’s owner said.

“By accelerating decommissioning, we are fulfilling a commitment we made in 2013 to decommission Vermont Yankee as soon as reasonably possible,” said Bill Mohl, Entergy Wholesale Commodities president. “Decommissioning and site restoration, drawing on NorthStar’s expertise, will provide economic development for the region. For Entergy, this transaction enables us to manage financial risk and reduce our company’s merchant power footprint.”

NorthStar, called “one of the premier U.S. dismantling and remediation companies,” plans to partner with the firms Areva, Waste Control Specialists and Burns & McDonnell to perform specialized services “drawing on each company’s core competencies,” Entergy said.

Areva will be responsible for reactor work and spent fuel management support, while Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell, as “a full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm,” will handle engineering and regulatory support. Waste Control Specialists, of Dallas, with a radioactive waste disposal site in Texas, will be in charge of the Vermont plant’s “waste management, packaging, transportation and disposal.”

The French multinational AREVA lists among its nuclear decommissioning projects the reactor-vessel segmentation and packaging at the Yankee Atomic plant in Rowe, Maine Yankee and Millstone 1 as well as used fuel and waste management at Connecicut Yankee and Japan’s Fukushima plants.

“Our in-house expertise, combined with the proven track record of our partners, provides the complete package of skills needed to ensure the timely, safe, cost-efficient decommissioning and restoration of the Vermont Yankee site,” said Scott State, NorthStar CEO. “Our primary objective is to complete the decommissioning of the non-Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation portion of the site decades earlier than originally planned so that a majority of Vermont Yankee can be redeveloped to promote business for the region.”

But Deborah Katz, president of Citizens Awareness Network, called the proposed sale “a rabbit-in-a-hat trick … a way of letting Entergy off the hook. I understand why people would like to see NorthStar as the knight on a white horse coming in to save the situation. But this is a fantasy. If Entergy couldn’t clean the site up with the limited decommissioning funds, then you’ve got to ask yourself how is North Star going to do it, and do it in a very short period of time?”

Katz said the deal “has the potential to be dirty and cheap.”

Claire Chang of the Safe and Green Campaign said the deal was a sign of Entergy “shirking their responsibilities and offloading everything … (after) taking what they can out of the trust fund” to move spent fuel from the reactor vessel to dry casks.

Vermont Yankee spokesman Martin Cohn said NorthStar and its partners can achieve the decommissioning – estimated at $817 million for license termination, $57 million for site restoration and $225 million for spent-fuel management – because of its expertise. “Entergy can operate plants; these people have experience in decontamination and dismantling plants.”

The nuclear decommissioning trust fund for Vermont Yankee totals $575 million. Of the overall $1.2 billion estimated in overall decommissioning costs, $143 million is projected for the ongoing moving of spent fuel to dry cask.

New England Coalition trustee Clay Turnbull said “We feel like if we don’t bring added truth to power, who will? … We will likely intervene in the current round of VY post-license matters.”

He added, “We have a strong record of introducing legal and technical considerations that have moved decisions toward better protection of the human and natural environment.”

According to the coalition’s technical adviser, Raymond Shadis, selling to a decommissioning group has been increasingly chosen by owners of shut-down reactors across the country, most notably Exelon, which the two Zion plants in Illinois. There, the nation’s largest nuclear operator found that high costs of maintaining a shuttered plant dragging down Zion’s decommissioning trust fund. It formed a new company, Zion Solutions, to bring about prompt decommissioning to cut costs.

“We always said that Entergy VY’s estimate of $1.24 billion to decommission just one smaller plant was self-serving fiction; the inflated figure promised that Entergy would reap $600 million or more for ‘managing’ the project,” said Shadis, comparing the Vernon reactor to about $900 million for the two Zion plants.

“People, including regulators, often just don’t get it. Decommissioning can be a profitable business. This is proven, in part, by the fact that NorthStar is paying to get into the VY prompt DECON game with only around $600 million” in the trust fund Shadis said. “And, of course they anticipate making a profit. We told the Public Service Board all of this, several times over, but they just couldn’t seem to connect the dots; we might as well have taken our case to Judge Judy.”

On Entergy’s original decommissioning schedule for the plant, which shut down after 42½ years of operation, decontamination and dismantlement was to begin in 2068, with projected completion of both decommissioning and site restoration by 2075.

In its agreement with Entergy, NorthStar has committed to starting decontamination and dismantlement by 2021 and to complete decommissioning and restoration of the site by 2030. It would continue maintaining spent fuel until the U.S. Department of Energy fulfills its obligations to remove it. NorthStar would then decommission the storage area, terminate the NRC license and complete site restoration.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269