The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. (AP file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today introduced legislation to give states a greater role in decommissioning nuclear power plants.

Vermont and neighboring states should have more input in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission process for determining what happens after the shutdown later this year of the 42-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, Sanders said. Aging plants also are projected to be mothballed in the next decade in Florida, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

The legislation would require plant operators to consult with states within 50 miles of a plant before submitting a decommissioning plan to the NRC. The bill would require the NRC to solicit input from the public, and it would make the NRC approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan - something the regulatory agency does not do now.

"Currently a nuclear plant operator could adopt a decommissioning plan that ignores the needs and interests of the public and the state would have no recourse. That is fundamentally unfair and unreasonable," Sanders said. "This is simply about ensuring that states have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in a decision that has enormous economic, environmental and community impacts."

"States hosting nuclear power plants should have a seat at the table during the decommissioning process," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.


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), who introduced companion legislation in the House. "In any state, but particularly Vermont, decommissioning has numerous implications for the environment, economy, work force and tax base. This bill will ensure that Vermont is not on the outside looking in as the NRC makes key decisions affecting our state."

Sanders' Senate bill is cosponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the NRC, and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Sanders cosponsored separate Boxer and Markey bills that also were introduced today on nuclear power plant safety.

Boxer's proposal would prohibit the NRC from exempting plants from safety requirements until all of the spent fuel stored onsite is placed in secure dry casks. The NRC says an earthquake at a plant with fuel stored in water pools could release radiation and cause widespread contamination. The agency nevertheless has granted every request that it has ever received from a plant operator to waive emergency response requirements.

Markey's bill would ensure that every nuclear plant operator moves spent fuel stored in pools into more stable and better protected dry casks as soon as it can be done safely.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine decommissioning nuclear reactors. Vermont Public Service Department Commissioner Christopher Recchia is among the witnesses.