BRATTLEBORO >> The state of Vermont was denied its request to have more of a say in emergency planning around the now-shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
On Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released its decision that it would not hear an appeal of an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruling nor would it allow reconsideration of the NRC staff recommendations related to the plant's emergency plan.
"We are pleased with the NRC's decision today, which denied the State's appeals related to Vermont Yankee's revised emergency plan," said Martin Cohn, senior communications specialist for Entergy Vermont Yankee. "The NRC has affirmed the Atomic Safety Licensing Board's decision to deny Vermont's hearing request on the license amendment request for the Permanently Defueled Emergency Plan as well as its own approval of exemptions to certain emergency preparedness regulatory requirements. Entergy Vermont Yankee remains committed to the safe and efficient decommissioning of Vermont Yankee and adhering to all applicable NRC regulations."
The decision allows Entergy to go ahead with reducing the scope of both off-site and on-site emergency planning and extend the time for the notification of state authorities of an emergency declaration from 15 minutes to one hour. Entergy asked to implement the changes effective April 15, a little more than 15 months after shutdown. Recently, Entergy notified the NRC that the spent fuel stored in the spent fuel pool has decayed to the extent that the requested changes are applicable.
The state of Vermont had argued that Entergy's request failed to account for "all credible emergency scenarios, undermines the effectiveness of the site emergency plan and off-site emergency planning, and poses an increased risk to the health and safety of Vermont citizens in violation of NRC regulatory requirements."
A review of Entergy's request by NRC staff concluded the proposal "with arrangements made with off-site response agencies, (made) reasonable assurance that adequate protective measures can and will be taken in the event of a radiological emergency ..."
Chris Recchia, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said he anticipated the NRC would make the decision it did.
"But through the Legislature, we have a system in which the Department of Health and emergency management can continue their emergency planning," he said. "And the Legislature gave us the authority to bill the costs back to Entergy. This is still very important while there is spent fuel in the spent fuel pool. Vermonters should have some assurance there will be a process in place for the next four years. After the fuel has been moved into dry casks, we will revisit the issue."
Recchia admitted there is no guarantee that Entergy will comply with the Legislature to pay for emergency planning.
"I would hope that we will continue to try to find a productive and constructive relationship here. We will no doubt argue about where the funds come from. I am sure they will want to take the money from the decommissioning fund, which we disagree with."
The NRC's decision noted it had found "that a hearing opportunity is warranted when an exemption request 'raises material questions directly connected to an agency licensing action ...'"
However, the ASLB denied Vermont's contentions on the basis of the NRC staff's recommendation to grant the exemption request. The ASLB also ruled the state had failed "to raise a genuine dispute with the license amendment application's compliance with the exempted regulations."
Vermont appealed the ASLB's decision, contending the board should have considered "all possible outcomes" of a Commission decision, characterizing the ASLB's dismissal as "arbitrary" and "premature."
"Vermont has not addressed any of the factors that would demonstrate that a stay is warranted here," stated the decision. "With this contention, however, Vermont has — instead of challenging the applications — impermissibly challenged the way the agency conducts its business."
While both Entergy and the NRC have acknowledged that the exemption request and the license amendment application would reduce the effectiveness of the current Vermont Yankee emergency plan, "The relevant issue here is the federal requirement for Entergy to support state planning and monitoring activities and advances a more specific request for the NRC to require Entergy to financially support state agencies that would be responsible for responding to an emergency under the revised plan."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.