The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)
Saturday April 27, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- In a filing to the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee asked the court to declare the state has no say in whether an emergency generator is installed at the power plant in Vernon.

"Vermont's refusal to authorize construction of the ... generator is further pre-empted and unenforceable because it is an aspect of the state's long-running campaign to force the VY Station to shut down by any means necessary because of radiological safety concerns," states the filing.

In addition, notes the filing, "Whereas the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) requires Entergy to install a station blackout generator in order to ensure the safety of the VY Station, Vermont has failed to grant Entergy authority to do so in a timely fashion."

Entergy has until September to install and get the generator running due to changes in "blackstart" regulations, which dictate how the electric grid will be restored following a system-wide failure. Currently, Yankee has a direct tie-in to the Vernon Hydroelectric Dam, which would supply the backup power during such a failure. But recent changes to federal regulations require Yankee not rely on the dam. In response, Entergy has proposed the installation of an emergency diesel generator to supply back-up power. But because that would result in a change to the site plan of the plant, by state law Entergy must get a certificate of public good before it begins construction. The Vermont Public Service Board is in the process of reviewing the CPG application.

In its filing to the district court, Entergy is contending the state is attempting to regulate the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant, which is solely under the purview of the NRC.

Failure to have a back-up generator online by September would lead to revocation of the plant's operating license, notes the filing, "Necessitating permanent shutdown of the VY Station for the protection of public health and safety."

Jim Sinclair, spokesman for Vermont Yankee, said to have the generator operational by Sept. 1 means construction must start no later than mid-June.

"While we filed a request with the Vermont PSB more than seven months ago to start construction, we have not yet received approval," said Sinclair. "Therefore, to ensure the economic and environmental benefits of Vermont Yankee continue, we believe it's prudent to pursue multiple avenues to ensure we meet NRC regulations."

"The NRC's requirement that the VY Station maintain a station blackout generator is a regulation of the plant's operation," states the court filing. "Vermont's attempts to regulate the VY Station and frustrate Entergy's compliance with NRC regulation are pre-empted because they intrude on the NRC's exclusive jurisdiction over regulation of nuclear plant operation and/or construction ...."

Entergy VY is appealing to the same court that ruled the Vermont Legislature overstepped its authority when it prohibited the PSB from issuing a certificate of public good for the plant's continued operation. The NRC issued a 20-year license extension in March 2011, which authorized the plant to operate from March 2012 to March 2032. While the district court removed the Legislature from the approval process, it reaffirmed the PSB's role in determining whether the plant should receive a CPG. The board is in the process of renewing Entergy's CPG application and is expected to rule sometime after August. Meanwhile, the state has appealed the district court's decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, which recently took oral arguments.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.