BRATTLEBORO -- Even though Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been operating with an 11-year-old discharge permit, it could be another two years before it receives a new one.
Catherine Gjessing, associate general counsel for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, was asked by the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel to explain ANR's process behind issuing a new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the power plant.
On Thursday night, the panel was in Brattleboro to hear her explanation.
"We are currently working on making a decision on renewal," she said.
Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, applied for a new discharge permit in late September 2005 in advance of the permit's expiration in March 2006.
"Because Entergy submitted a timely application for renewal and the agency has not yet issued its final decision, it is allowed to continue to operate under the conditions of the expired permit," said Gjessing.
A number of issues have slowed down ANR's process, said Gjessing.
Entergy applied for an amendment prior to the 2001 permit's expiration, an amendment that was approved by ANR but appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court by the New England Coalition, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited and Citizens Awareness Network.
The Environmental Court's decision was appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which issued a final decision in December 2009.
Meanwhile, said Gjessing, the EPA was creating new rules governing the use of best available technologies to limit the impact of pollutant discharge on the environment.
The new rules could allow ANR to issue a new permit with a condition that the plant withdraw a minimal amount of water from the river and not discharge any heated water. Instead, the plant would have to use its two banks of cooling fans to drop the temperature of the water that is used to cool the reactor.
The EPA issued draft rules in April 2011, which were supposed to be finalized in August of this year, but weren't. The EPA's new deadline is June 2014.
Rather than wait, said Gjessing, ANR is proceeding with its permit review and will "deal with the rule as it comes."
About 20 members of the public attended the meeting, most of whom are opposed to Yankee's continued operation and are not happy the permit application is still under review.
"Why is the state sitting back and watching this happen?" asked Hattie Nestel, of Athol, Mass., who recently was fined $350 by Windham Superior Court for trespassing at Yankee during a protest in August 2011.
"It's important for the state to make a sound scientific and technical decision," said Gjessing.
When asked about a report from the Connecticut River Watershed Council that claims Entergy's modeling is inadequate and doesn't accurately represent the plant's impact on the river, Gjessing said "We have not been able to verify the basis of that report."
"Their report lays out some concerns and arguments about the previous hydro-thermal modeling and the formula that was used to determine compliance," she said. "We will be looking at that carefully in the context of the new permit."
Because ANR doesn't have a hydro-thermal modeling expert on staff, it will have to hire a specialist to review CRWC's report, she said.
"You can't find any basis for (CRWC's) science when relying on Entergy's models and their science is equally questionable," said Sally Shaw, of Gill, Mass., who read from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report that was submitted during the review of Entergy's request to extend the plant's operating license by another 20 years.
She said the report recommended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission give consideration to the use of the cooling towers year round to meet the statutory standard of minimizing adverse environmental impact.
Yankee received its new 20-year license in March 2011 but has yet to receive a certificate of public good from Vermont to continue operation. Entergy sued the state in federal court when the Legislature refused to allow the Public Service Board to issue a CPG. A federal court judge ruled in January 2012 that the Legislature overstepped its authority when it passed the legislation giving itself that authority. The state has appealed the decision to a federal appeals court. Meanwhile, the PSB is taking new testimony on Entergy's CPG application.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.