BRATTLEBORO >> What is the appropriate use of the millions of dollars in the decommissioning fund for Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant?
That's a question the Vermont Attorney General's Office, the Vermont Department of Public Service and two utilities are asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to clarify. In a press release issued Friday, AG Bill Sorrell noted under NRC regulations, the Vermont Yankee trust fund can be used only for decommissioning expenses.
"This trust fund is for cleaning up the Vermont Yankee site. We think the NRC needs to hold Entergy to that promise. The NRC should look at withdrawals from the fund holistically and with public participation in the decision-making process. This trust fund must be protected to ensure the site is cleaned up."
Chris Recchia, the commissioner of the DPS, stated the request is meant to protect Vermont's ratepayers, "Especially in light of Entergy's recent announcements regarding the upcoming closure of the Pilgrim and Fitzpatrick nuclear plants, the NRC needs to start taking these matters more seriously and provide a comprehensive and participatory process for reviewing requests to use decommissioning funds."
In addition to the AG's office and the DPS, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation and its current owner, Green Mountain Power Corporation, signed on to the request. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation is the previous owner of the Vermont Yankee plant. It collected the principal funds that, with interest, constitute the entirety of the Vermont Yankee trust fund. Green Mountain Power Corporation, and through it their Vermont ratepayers, have a 55 percent interest in all monies that remain in that fund following completion of decommissioning.
"Thus, as the Petition notes, if the NRC allows improper uses of the Vermont Yankee trust fund, it directly harms Vermont ratepayers," states the press release.
"We do not believe there is any merit to the state's petition, which raises many of the same issues that have been raised in previous filings," said Martin Cohn, senior communications specialist for the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee. "As we have said before, all of the disbursements we have obtained from the trust fund have been appropriate, consistent with NRC guidelines, and consistent with our commitments to the state of Vermont."
In August 2015, the Vermont Attorney General's Office, the Department of Public Service, and the two utilities also filed a lawsuit at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. That lawsuit directly challenges the NRC's decision to grant an exemption allowing Entergy to use the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund for spent fuel management expenses. The petition filed Thursday explicitly asks, among other things, that the NRC reverse its earlier decision to grant Entergy that exemption from NRC regulations.
Entergy purchased the plant in 2002 from the VYNPC, at which time Entergy was not required to contribute any money to the decommissioning fund. In December 2014, Yankee ceased operations.
In the Aug. 13 petition, the state noted "This is a fund that was set up for one purpose — to clean up the Vermont Yankee site. The NRC's own regulations make clear that any other expenses Entergy might be facing, including the costs of managing spent fuel, cannot come out of this fund. The NRC should not have exempted Entergy from those regulations."
The plant is being placed in SAFSTOR for future decommissioning, which is expected to start when the trust fund reaches the level necessary to complete the job. The trust fund peaked at $665 million, before outlays for decommissioning. It is expected it will cost more than $1 billion to fully remediate the site.
From February through Oct. 15, Entergy Vermont Yankee has asked for disbursements totaling $76 million from the fund. Most recently, Entergy Vermont Yankee requested $6.6 million, of which $1.2 million is intended to pay the facility's property tax bill of $1.2 million. Less than $100,000 will be applied together to emergency planning contractor costs and insurance. The rest of the disbursement is for personnel costs related to the plant's decommissioning. The state has objected to Entergy's use of decommissioning fund money to pay the plant's tax bill.