Coalition wants state to reject part of Vermont Yankee plan

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BRATTLEBORO — An anti-nuclear group is asking the state Public Service Board to reject several key requests made by the company that wants to buy Vermont Yankee.

In a motion filed Friday, Brattleboro-based New England Coalition argued that several elements of NorthStar Group Services' decommissioning plan —including a controversial proposal to bury concrete on site — shouldn't be considered as part of the Public Service Board's current deliberations.

The coalition is arguing that NorthStar is improperly attempting to get out of agreements made by current plant owner Entergy — agreements that were included in past Public Service Board orders.

"NorthStar cannot unilaterally decide which agreements and which board orders it will comply with and which ones it will flout," said Clay Turnbull, a coalition trustee and staffer.

Both NorthStar and Entergy will have an opportunity to file responses to the coalition's claim.

NorthStar did not immediately comment on Friday. An Entergy spokesman said only that the company is "evaluating the motion and will respond to the motion within the time frame prescribed by the board."

Entergy wants to sell Vermont Yankee, which stopped producing power at the end of 2014, to NorthStar, a New York-based decommissioning company.

NorthStar has promised to decommission and restore the Vernon property decades sooner than Entergy would have. But skeptics question the company's ability to follow through on those plans.

Both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Board must approve the sale. But the New England Coalition now claims that the board cannot legally consider several important parts of NorthStar's petition, including:

- A "rubblization" proposal to use as much as 1.1 million cubic feet of crushed concrete as fill.

- A plan to combine Vermont Yankee's nuclear decommissioning trust fund and site restoration trust fund. Currently, those accounts are separate.

- A proposal to conduct nuclear decommissioning and site restoration activities simultaneously.

- A request that Entergy's $20 million "parent guarantee" for site restoration be eliminated if the sale goes through.

Each of those plans, the coalition argues, represents a departure from Public Service Board orders issued in 2002 - when Entergy purchased Vermont Yankee - and in 2014, when the company had decided to shut the plant down.

If NorthStar and Entergy want to modify those agreements, the companies' "sole remedy" is to ask the Public Service Board to reopen those dockets, New England Coalition says. And unless that happens, the coalition claims the board "lacks authority" to amend its prior orders.

The coalition is asking for a partial summary judgment from the Public Service Board and argues that "this issue is ripe for decision now" - before the board's Vermont Yankee sale deliberations go any further.

Both NorthStar and Entergy have defended the rubblization request, saying the use of clean concrete as fill would save millions of dollars and keep thousands of disposal trucks off the road.

And in testimony filed with the Public Service Board in December, NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State contrasted his plans to undertake decommissioning and site restoration simultaneously with Entergy's slower plan to perform those tasks separately.

"Instead of first cleaning a concrete structure of radioactivity and then waiting until after radiological decommissioning has been completed and site restoration has begun to demolish it NorthStar generally demolishes the structure using mechanized equipment and removes it from the site during radiological decommissioning," State wrote.

Given that approach, he is proposing moving the site restoration trust fund into a "separate segregated sub-account" within the decommissioning trust fund. Taken together, NorthStar expects that there will be a minimum of $538.5 million in those accounts when the sale closes.

NorthStar's plan is for the state Public Service Department to have an opportunity to review and object to any proposed disbursements from the site restoration fund.

Mike Faher reports for the Reformer, VTDigger, and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.

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