Vermont Yankee transfer OK’d

  • Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. FILE PHOTO

  • Vermont Yankee and Vernon Dam FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2018 9:48:34 PM

Federal regulators on Friday approved transfer of Vermont Yankee’s nuclear operating license from Entergy to NorthStar, clearing the way for the sale of the shuttered Vernon, Vermont reactor and site and faster decommissioning of the nuclear plant that closed in December 2014.

The pending sale of the 46-year-old facility — owned by Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and operated by Entergy Nuclear Operations — is believed to be the first of a commercial nuclear plant in this country to a company whose primary responsibility is its decommissioning and site restoration.

The new owner, NorthStar Vermont Yankee, has said it plans to begin decommissioning the site by 2021, and possibly as early as next year, and have it completed by 2030, or as early as 2026 — decades ahead of the original proposed decommissioning Entergy had proposed.

Entergy requested the license transfer — including Vermont Yankee’s 58 dry casks of stored spent fuel — in February, seeking a response in time for a sale by the end of the year.

Vermont’s Public Utility Commission must still approve a Certificate of Public Good to allow the transfer, and the NRC transfer is contingent on the sale, which is expected on Dec. 31.

Based on a 20-month financial and technical review, the NRC ruled that that NorthStar met the regulatory, legal, technical, and financial requirements necessary to qualify as a licensee, and determined the transfer is consistent with law and NRC regulations. It also found that the transfer can be conducted without endangering public health and safety, and will not harm common defense and security.

“This is an important regulatory milestone in our team’s efforts to safely restore the Vermont Yankee site to conditions suitable for productive economic use decades sooner than originally anticipated,” said NorthStar CEO Scott State in a written press statement. State said the decision is consistent with the terms of a written agreement reached after negotiation with groups parties that included Vermont’s Department of Public Service, Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Health, and attorney general, as well the Town of Vernon, Windham Regional Planning Commission, New England Coalition, and the Elnu and Missisquoi Abenaki Tribes.

He said he hopes the decision will enable the state Public Utility Commission “to complete its independent review under state law and issue NorthStar a Certificate of Public Good so that we can close our transaction with Entergy this year and move forward with this important project.”

The Vermont Public Utility Commission, which has delayed taking action until the NRC took action, has not indicated how soon it plans to render its own decision.  

As part of its review, the NRC considered the adequacy of Entergy Vermont Yankee’s Decommissioning Trust Fund — which had a $527.9 million balance on Aug. 31. The agency’s staff had concerns about the fund’s adequacy, with a $495 million decommissioning estimate by the companies, and an additional $3.5 million for spent fuel decommissioning, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Entergy and NorthStar agreed to deposit $30 million into an escrow account, with Entergy providing $20 million and NorthStar providing $10 million, to be available for radiological decommissioning and site restoration, as needed. In addition, after the first $100 million has been withdrawn from the trust fund, NorthStar will place 10 percent of the amounts invoiced, up to $25 million, into the escrow fund, he said.

NRC staff also considered the adequacy of plans to manage the on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel until it is removed and address spent fuel management costs, Sheehan said. It found the companies have “provided reasonable assurance” that New York-based NorthStar can obtain money necessary to cover the estimated costs for decommissioning Vermont Yankee.

It also reviewed whether the change in ownership to North Star, whose team includes the French company Orano (previously known as AREVA) would violate any foreign ownership, control or domination issues of the Atomic Agency Act. It found that NorthStar is privately held and controlled by its board of directors, all of whom are U.S. citizens, according to Sheehan. 

Michael Twomey, vice president of external affairs for Entergy Wholesale Commodities, noted in a written statement that in a separate order, the NRC approved NorthStar’s request for an exemption to use up to $20 million at any one time from the decommissioning trust fund for managing spent fuel.

“Both of these decisions are significant milestones toward the timely decommissioning of Vermont Yankee,” Twomey said. “We are encouraged by the NRC’s acceptance of this transaction model. The proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, if also approved by the Vermont Public Utility Commission, would accelerate Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning by decades — a positive outcome for the town of Vernon, Windham County, the State of Vermont and other stakeholders.” 

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