Officials, locals question viability of Vermont Yankee sale

  • The containment building and the turbine building of the now decommissioned Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, VT, January 25, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Turbine building and the containment building, top, of the now decommissioned Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, VT, January 25, 2017. At left are emergency generator, rust colored building, and dry cask storage. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/23/2017 11:41:03 PM


Recorder Staff

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — State officials and area residents raised concerns and questions Thursday about the sale of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee Corp. to NorthStar Group Services in New York as the process moves before federal and state regulators.

Several members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel raised issues about what will happen if the costs of decommissioning the Vermont Yankee plant, which closed at the end of 2014, and restoring the Vernon reactor site exceed what NorthStar and its partner companies are able to handle.

The state’s Public Service Board, which is expected to decide by April 2018 whether to grant a Certificate of Public Good, plans to hold a public hearing April 6 at 7 p.m. at the Vernon Elementary School, following a 6 p.m. informational meeting. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must agree to the sale as well, also plans a public hearing, although no date has been set.

As representatives from the state Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Public Service and attorney general’s office discussed concerns — some of which have been raised as formal questions in the state’s review process — Assistant AG Kyle Landis-Marinello said, “We do see significant financial and social issues with site cleanup, and we want to make sure all Vermonters are protected. The transaction looks good if we can get this site cleaned up quickly, but our office wants to, along with the other agencies, kick the tires and make sure one, that the cleanup is going to be done properly, and two, that the costs are not going to fall on Vermont taxpayers.”

The attorney general’s office plans to look in particular at the $125 million “support agreement” being proposed on top of the decommissioning trust fund, which now totals roughly $572 million, Landis-Marinello said, raising the question of whether the money will actually be in place if it is needed and if not, “Who pays?”

Peter Walke, deputy secretary of natural resources, raised concern that Entergy has not yet submitted a non-radiological site assessment for the Vernon site that was supposed to have been submitted by the end of 2014.

“We’ve yet to see one that we would deem complete, so it’s very difficult for us to fully evaluate how NorthStar is going to address (this) if we don’t have that information,” he said.

Panel Chairwoman Kate O’Connor asked, “When is stuff like that going to be done? Is this the time to do it?”

Walke responded, “This is definitely the time. We need to know if it’s a viable transaction.”

Joseph R. Lynch Entergy’s senior government affairs manager for decommissioning, said that when Entergy purchased the Vermont Yankee plant, a Phase One environmental site assessment was done, and that represented a baseline of all problems that had already existed, to which the company added on everything that occurred until the end of 2014​ and submitted ​that comprehensive non-radiological historical site assessment to the state in October 2014 as part of a site assessment study. ​

“So there’s a lot of information about the environmental condition of the site. So I would not characterize us not knowing anything. I think The next phase is to go in and then understand where the areas (are) that have to be remediated.”

Among the others who raised concerns at Thursday’s meeting was Deborah Katz, president of Citizens Awareness Network.

“The estimate for cleaning up Yankee Rowe, a $39 million reactor to build, was $325 million,” Katz told the panel. “By the end — and it has still not been released for site release …(it) is $700 million … because of all the contamination they found, contamination that had not been catalogued.”

Unlike Vermont Yankee, she added, the Yankee Atomic plant “had a rate base to go back to” to pay the additional contamination costs. The Vernon reactor, as a “merchant plant” has no such backup, she said.

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