Funding plan for Vt. Yankee cleanup called inadequate

  • Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. recorder file photo

Rutland Herald
Friday, April 13, 2018

VERNON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday that NorthStar Holding Co. and Entergy Nuclear’s plans for funding the decommissioning and cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant appear to be inadequate.

“Based on review of the information supplied to date, NRC staff is unable to find that the funding mechanisms proposed by the applicants are adequate to provide reasonable assurance that sufficient funds will be available for the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan, reading from a statement.

An NRC letter to Entergy and NorthStar officials dated April 5 and released Thursday detailed the financial questions federal regulators still had about the financial underpinnings of the planned decommissioning and long-term storage of the spent nuclear fuel.

“Additional information is needed to clarify how NorthStar demonstrates adequate financial assurance to complete licensed activities as provided for in its license transfer application,” Sheehan added. “In addition, NRC staff needs further information to clearly understand the qualifications of NorthStar to hold an NRC license to perform this work.”

Sheehan said this was the first sale of its kind, and the NRC was being particularly careful.

“It’s a matter of due diligence,” he said. “As we’ve said previously, this is the first time for this type of decommissioning proposal and therefore it’s not surprising that we have multiple questions pertaining to it.”

The NRC said it needed additional information from both companies to do a full analysis of the financial underpinnings of the deal, which would transfer Vermont Yankee’s license and its decommissioning trust fund from Entergy to NorthStar.

The decommissioning trust fund currently stands at about $570 million, although Entergy has been making withdrawals from the fund to pay for preliminary decommissioning work ever since Yankee shut down in December 2014.

NorthStar says it can demolish Vermont Yankee and clean up the Vernon site quicker and cheaper than Entergy, which had said it would cost them $1.2 billion, and that they wouldn’t attempt it for about 60 years while the trust fund grew and radioactivity decayed.

Formal hearings before the Public Utility Commission are expected to start later this spring and Entergy and NorthStar have said they need a decision by the end of June if they hope to complete the sale by the end of 2018.

NorthStar, an industrial demolition company based in New York City, has never decommissioned a commercial nuclear reactor, although it has decommissioned a small college-based reactor.

The formal request for additional information comes after the Scott administration, Vermont attorney general’s office, and some of the environmental groups involved with Yankee reached an agreement with NorthStar and Entergy, which Vermont officials said added up to $180 million of cash and guarantees to the decommissioning pot.

“We did factor the recent settlement agreement into the request for additional information,” Sheehan said, noting one of the staff’s areas of inquiry dealt with the settlement agreement.

“However, to date, Entergy/NorthStar has not revised the license transfer application submitted to us to reflect the settlement agreement,” he said.

Neither company would answer why the settlement agreement had not been submitted.

NorthStar responded with a statement from Scott State, the company’s chief financial officer, who was not available for an interview.

“NorthStar is reviewing the NRC’s requests. We look forward to providing the NRC with the additional information it seeks to guide review of our plan to safely and efficiently restore the Vermont Yankee site to conditions suitable for productive economic use decades ahead of schedule,” said State.

Likewise, Entergy Nuclear would not comment, as it was reviewing the NRC’s request for additional information, according to company spokesman Joseph Lynch.