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Process for sale of Vt. Yankee said to be first arrangement of its kind

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



Recorder Staff
Friday, April 07, 2017

VERNON, Vt. — Several of the people who testified at a Vermont Public Service Board hearing said they favor the expedited decommissioning that the sale of Vermont Yankee plant would bring.

Entergy Nuclear’s plans to sell its ownership of the plant to New York-based NorthStar Group Services were discussed at a two-hour meeting on Thursday.

Several of those who testified, at what will be the first of two PSB hearings, called on the board to be diligent in assuring that the state is not left holding the bag if something goes wrong.

The board, along with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would have to approve the proposed sale of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee LLC for it to go through in what has been called the first such arrangement of its kind. Both state and federal reviews are expected to be completed sometime next year, with the owner of the shutdown Vernon reactor saying it wants the sale to take place late next year.

The hearing before two PSB members took place in the elementary school directly across the road from the reactor, which shut down in December 2014, and some of the residents who spoke raised concerns about precautions that need to take place to assure the health of schoolchildren as the plant is dismantled.

“I don’t think anyone in the room would disagree that we want to have a clean site,” said Betsy Williams of Westminster West, yet she questioned how NorthStar can safely and completely decommission and restore the site for $811 million. “If they can do that, it would be really swell. But there is no guarantee.”

Deborah Katz of Rowe, executive director of the antinuclear Citizens Awareness Network, told the board, “What is being proposed is a radial change in decommissioning” because the operator of the plant would not retain control during and after its cleanup. “Although NorthStar sounds really good, and I would like to believe this because it sounds so good. But things that sound so good don’t always work out so well.”

Several of those testifying raised questions about the involvement of NorthStar’s partners, including Paris-based Areva, which has been having serious financial difficulties, as well as cost overruns by Missouri-based engineering firm Burns & McConnell.

The proposed deal would make use of a “guaranteed fixed payment system” by which NorthStar would be obligated to perform each component of cleanup and restoration using fixed payments for each 942 discrete project elements.

Earlier in the evening, state Sen. Mark MacDonald grilled Entergy’s Vice President for External Affairs T. Michael Twomey and NorthStar CEO Scott E. State as they took questions from audience members.

MacDonald asked who would be responsible if the decommissioning trust fund for the plant — which now totals almost $600 million — if there are cost overruns, since the new owner — North Star Vermont Yankee LLC — would be a limited liability company, as is present owner, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee LLC.

“If this deal is passed, and there are rules in place by the NRC, which determine who is responsible, is there any guarantee that the NRC will not do what it has done in the past, which is after Vermonters have made a deal, the NRC has changed the rules … and has applied the new rules to the previous agreements? I’ve witnessed it happening numerous times.”

Yet the PSB, which plans to hold a second public hearing in September, also heard from several officials saying that having the site decommissioned by the end of 2030, rather than the originally envisioned 2075 time frame, would be a boon for the area’s economy

“We’re thrilled with the NorthStar proposal,” said Vernon Planning and Economic Development Commission. “It’s almost too good to be true.”