BRATTLEBORO -- It's official.
Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon will receive approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next Tuesday or Wednesday to continue operating for another 20 years past its original license expiration date of March 21, 2012.
The commissioner of the NRC announced the decision during a teleconference with the media Thursday afternoon.
"We believe that Entergy, through the exhaustive review we have done, meets all of the requirements and standards to be able to operate for another 20 years," said Commissioner Gregory Jaczko.
The announcement came shortly after four members of the commission voted unanimously to reject a contention recently submitted by the New England Coalition, which opposes Yankee's continued operation, related to electric cables that are susceptible to wetting and submersion.
The fifth commissioner recused himself because of his prior service on the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, which recommended renewal of the Vermont Yankee license some time ago, stated Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, in an e-mail to the media.
The commission also rejected a motion to stay the license renewal proceeding submitted by NEC asking that the NRC reopen the hearing to take new testimony on the cables.
Jaczko said with the rejection of NEC's submissions, the NRC's safety and technical review is now considered complete.
It's been more than five years since Entergy, which owns and operates the power plant, submitted its license renewal application.
"We are pleased with the NRC's action today," stated Larry Smith, Yankee's director of communications, in a statement. "It confirms that Vermont Yankee is a safe and reliable nuclear plant and that the plant meets all the requirements to operate safely for another 20 years."
When asked what Entergy's next step is in relation to the Vermont Legislature's refusal to allow the Public Service Board to issue a certificate of public good for the plant's continued operation, Smith said "We have no comment at this time other than the statement I gave to the media."
Despite the plant's ongoing record of high performance, the NRC has no authority to rule on the plant's reliability, said Jaczko.
"That's in the purview of the state," he said. "I do not anticipate we would be involved in that determination. Regardless of what happens with Yankee's status, we will continue to focus on a daily basis to ensure the plant meets our high standards of protections for the public health and safety."
Jaczko denied the commission's approval had anything to do with a recent letter from Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and David Vitter, R-La., in which they accused the NRC of utilizing a double standard in its license renewal reviews.
In the letter, the senators stated the NRC moved relatively quickly in approving new licenses for plants where little public opposition was present and dragged out the proceedings where there was vocal opposition.
Inhofe and Vitter urged the NRC to expeditiously approve Yankee's relicensing application.
"This process has followed the very normal process for reviewing complicated technical issues in a licensing proceeding," said Jaczko.
The NRC process guarantees the public the opportunity to participate in a license renewal proceeding, he said, a process he said was "very good and effective."
As far as the electrical cables are concerned, said Jaczko, the NRC is focusing on the issue on a fleet-wide basis "as we speak."
"This is not an issue that necessarily would impact any nuclear power plant relicensing," he said.
Jaczko said there has been a "tremendous recognition" on the part of licensees related to the cables and steps are being taken to address the issue.
He said the NRC, as is its responsibility, will continue to monitor Vermont Yankee's operation and if any issues that compromise the plant's safety arise, "We would take the appropriate action."
Jaczko said the NRC will not get involved in any actions taken in the courts by either the state or Entergy related to the Legislature's 26-to-4 vote to forbid the PSB from issuing a certificate of public good.
"That would be a matter between Entergy and the state," he said.
Shortly after the announcement, Vermont's congressional delegation issued a statement.
"It should surprise no one that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to extend Vermont Yankee's license for another 20 years," stated," Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. "The NRC has never denied a nuclear plant an extension, and in fact, has granted 62 straight license extensions."
The three men also stated they hoped Entergy would respect and abide by the Vermont laws which allow Vermont's Legislature to approve or disapprove continued operation.
Paul Burns, the executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, wrote in a statement that Vermont is fortunate that its elected leaders have a voice in the process.
"The Legislature made its position clear over one year ago," he stated. "Vermonters believe it's time for Entergy's leaking nuclear plant to be retired and the NRC's decision today will not change that fact."
In a press release, Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace, stated the NRC's approval was nothing more than a "rubber-stamping."
"(It) says more about the NRC's process and its deference to the nuclear industry than it does about the battle over Vermont's energy future," he wrote. "The people of Vermont have spoken, and Vermont Yankee is not welcome to operate in the state after March 2012. Greenpeace will stand with Vermonters to oppose Entergy's plans to continue operating this dangerous and unnecessary nuclear reactor for another 2- years."
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.