NEC to keep watchful eye on dry cask proposal
BRATTLEBORO -- A group that has opposed the operation of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon for more than 40 years says it will stay involved in the power plant's future, including a recent proposal by Entergy, the plant's owner, to construct a new concrete pad to store spent nuclear fuel at the site.
On June 30, Entergy announced that it had filed with the Vermont Public Service Board a request for a certificate of public good to build a second nuclear waste storage pad at Vermont Yankee. On May 14, Entergy notified the Vernon Selectboard, the Vernon Planning Commission and the Windham Regional commission that it would be submitting the application for a CPG.
In a press release, Entergy noted it is proposing to construct an engineered pad within Vermont Yankee's protected area, which will be located adjacent to a similar pad approved by the PSB in 2006 and now in use.
"With a reasonable period for regulatory review and public input, it is likely that construction could be completed in 2017," noted the press release. "Allowing for the normal five-year fuel cooling period after ceasing operations, Entergy expects the transfer of all Vermont Yankee spent fuel from the fuel pool to dry storage could be completed in 2020."
"While New England Coalition actually favors Entergy's promise of expedited removal of irradiated waste fuel from Vermont Yankee's densely packed, water-filled and elevated storage pool, Vermont Yankee's longest standing opponent is contemplating legal intervention, because of several remaining concerns," stated a press release from the New England Coalition.
Those concerns include what NEC characterizes as "a series of fuel handing mishaps in 2008."
"NEC does not believe that ENVY is adequately qualified or prepared to safely handle what will be one of the largest continuing irradiated fuel cask loading campaigns ever undertaken in the United States," stated the press release. NEC also contends that Vermont Yankee "has so far refused to consider the standard of 'best practices,' which would proof the storage site against flooding, aircraft impact, terrorist attack, or external environmental impacts, such as a seismically-triggered landslide into the Connecticut River."
NEC would like Entergy and the Public Service Board to consider the feasibility of an alternative site, one removed from the river flood plain where terrain may be more suitable to irradiated fuel consolidation and security.
"The very fact that the federal court has ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider in its Waste Confidence Rulemaking the possibility that a federal high-level nuclear waste repository may never get built, forces us to reckon with the likelihood that Vermont Yankee's waste may be in Vermont for generations come," stated the press release from NEC. "Intergenerational equity demands, at the least, exquisite attention to quality and detail of the cask systems, the site, and its operation."
According to its press release, NEC will be conducting a detailed review of the CPG application.
"The CPG application is an important step forward in the eventual decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee site," said Rob Williams, spokesman for Vermont Yankee. "Dry cask storage is a safe and effective method of storing spent nuclear fuel at Vermont Yankee until the Department of Energy fulfills its obligation to remove it from the site."
Thomas Kauffman, senior media relations manager for the Nuclear Energy Institute, had no comment on Entergy's application for a CPG, but did say used nuclear fuel is equally safe in dry storage containers and used fuel pools.
"In the more than half a century the U.S. nuclear industry has utilized used fuel pools, and since it began using dry storage containers in 1986, there has never been an incident at any nuclear energy facility that has harmed a single member of the public," he said. "Considerable effort and resources go into assuring that used nuclear fuel is safe in storage pools and in dry storage containers."
Kauffman stated the efforts and resources include a combination of sturdy plant design and construction, strict regulatory controls, ongoing surveillance and inspection, and armed, well-trained paramilitary security forces.
"After the 9/11 attacks the NRC issued orders to all plants requiring additional measures aimed at mitigating the effects of a large fire, explosion or accident, and damage that could affect the ability to cool the used fuel pool," he added. "Following Fukushima, these capabilities have been enhanced to effectively mitigate the effects of natural phenomena, such as tornadoes, floods, earthquakes or tsunami."
The proposed pad would be similar in size to the pad constructed in 2006, which now holds 13 dry casks, with room for 23 more. Each cask contains 68 fuel assemblies, meaning there are now 884 assemblies in dry cask storage. There are another 2,627 spent fuel assemblies in the pool in the reactor building and another 368 assemblies currently in the reactor vessel.
In late August 2013, Entergy announced it would be closing Yankee at the end of 2014 because it was no longer financially viable due to the fact that natural gas has driven down the costs of producing electricity.
Entergy signed a memorandum of agreement with the state that guaranteed it would begin cleaning up the site as soon as the decommissioning trust fund has reached the monetary levels necessary to complete the process. It is hoped decommissioning can be finished before 2030. But to begin dismantling the reactor building, Entergy needs to remove all the nuclear waste from the plant's spent nuclear fuel.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
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