Vermont Yankee decommissioning on track and under budget
Photo Gallery | SAFSTOR with Martin Cohn
BRATTLEBORO — On Tuesday, Jan. 26, Brattleboro Community Television presented the ninth episode of the SAFSTOR video series regarding the Vermont Yankee plant site.
Martin Cohn, Senior Communications Specialist at Entergy had a special guest, Joe Lynch, Manager, Governmental Affairs at Entergy, on the show for the second time to review the on-sitess accomplishments from 2015, the first year following the plant's closure.
"We have a lot to cover, so let's get started," said Cohn. "I'm going to just shoot off some topics, you give us the answers."
In 2013 Entergy announced that it would close the Vermont Yankee power plant at the end of 2014; the shutdown occurred on Dec. 29, 2014. All of the nuclear fuel was removed from the reactor and placed in a spent fuel pool by mid January 2015 and Yankee assured to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the reactor had permanently ceased operation and was forever defueled.
The first matter of discussion on the talk show was, "decommissioning preparation activities," where Lynch said that much of 2015 was spent around drainage and "laying up" a number of the systems that were operating when the site was producing power. Out of the 50 systems that were targeted, according to Lynch, about 35 of them were shut down in 2015. Lynch also noted that security upgrades were complete.
"The effort really was focused on removing all the fluids from the systems so that we can remove all the energy, "said Lynch. "And actually some of the buildings no longer have power or heat, all of that was in an effort to save energy at the plant since cost is very important to us."
The next update was regarding the emergency plan. In October of 2015, the team at the plant performed its last emergency plan drill, which is necessary to keep employees up to date and in qualified positions. Later in November one of the last siren tests in the emergency preparedness zone was carried out and according to Lynch, Yankee is communicating with the towns over whether the sirens will be removed or maintained by the towns for long-term use. In addition, he noted that some NRC approvals for scaling back the emergency response procedures were received in December 2015.
The Post Shut Down Decommissioning Plan will go into effect this April and will reduce the EPZ from the current 10 mile radius to the site boundary. In addition, staff reductions have come about as result of the shutdown.
"Unfortunately, as part of our plans for decommissioning, around May 5, 2016, we will be reducing our staff by about half," said Lynch. "Most of that was informed by the changes made to our emergency plan."
According to Lynch, 234 staff members were cut by Jan. 2015 and he expects that they will be down to 175 employees by May 5, 2016.
"We have been going through an effort for about eight months to try and place those employees at other positions with Entergy," said Lynch. "We've also started working with the Department of Labor for all three states (Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts) to see if there are opportunities to stay in the area, because obviously that would be very important to us, but unfortunately that will be people looking for positions on their own."
Though Entergy has made efforts to place its employees elsewhere within the company, the closest plant, Pilgrim Power Plant located in Plymouth, Mass., is scheduled to shut down in either 2017 or 2019. Entergy also made the decision to close the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant located in Oswego, N.Y., within one year, according to Lynch.
Cohn added that the team is conducting a number of seminars for these people who have been cut, which includes workshops in resume writing, retirement and financial planning and one regarding real estate — "How to sell you're house."
"We're really committed to helping our employees as best as we can," said Cohn.
The ninth episode of "SAFSTOR Matters" also included discussion around inspection activity. According to Lynch, the NRC performs regular inspections throughout the year and provides reports quarterly regarding the inspection. According to Lynch, last week Entergy received its fourth quarter inspection exit meeting with the NRC that showed no violations.
As far as exemptions go, there was one license amendment request that Lynch mentioned that requires a notification be sent to the NRC 30 days in advance of taking any withdraws from the Decommissioning Trust. In addition, the letter to the NRC must list certain types of withdrawals, such as whether they include taxes, legal fees or emergency planning type withdraws. This submission also requires that Entergy notify the state in advance. The other exemption was regarding commingled funds. Entergy had received approval from the NRC to use the Decommissioning Trust for items other than physical or radiological decommissioning, but the state along with Green Mountain Power and the former Vermont Yankee Corporation filed a suit against the NRC in the Washington D.C. District Court.
"That's an ongoing hearing right now," said Lynch. "We expect that in the end there will be a favorable result, but we're a party to that particular hearing, so that's another one we're keeping a close eye on."
As for the Decommissioning Trust Fund, Lynch described this as the "checkbook" of money needed to complete nuclear decommissioning on site. On Jan. 1, 2015, the fund stood at $664,558,000 and by Dec. 31, 2015 it was at $595,443,000, a $69,115,000 difference. According to Lynch the trust money has been used for three different purposes: physical decommissioning, market losses and gain and trust fees such as administrative and taxes imposed by the trustee for maintaining the trust.
"The good news is we are under budget for the project," said Lynch who added that his team is very happy that the project is "on course" and that the trust looks "healthy" at this point.
Lynch also provided an update with the Public Service Board and the Agency of Natural Resources. The ANR completed an inspection for the site's hazardous waste management and noted a number of findings and observations and informed them that there were alleged violations. These violations included poor labeling of waste paint, a sign that could not be read from a certain distance and a more"rugged" barrel was required for some of the waste on site. According to Lynch these violations have been corrected.
"We're happy to say we've worked through correcting all of those, we took immediate action to relabel and repackage some of our materials," said Lynch. "They've requested some additional information, on the 19th of January we sent the last letter of all that documentation, and we're confident we're in compliance."
All in all, Lynch explained that his hope is of remaining "transparent" throughout the decommissioning process. Lynch mentioned the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, which was formed by the Vermont Legislature, which saw a need to provide some type of panel that would actively offer information to the public. The panel includes 19 members, six that represent the public as well as representatives from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The first meeting was held in Sept. of 2014, and monthly meetings were held until December of that year. As for 2015, their initial goal was to hold quarterly meetings, but eight additional meetings were held in 2015, totaling 12 meetings over 16 months.
"They've been very well attended and they've provided a wealth of information, both report outs on the part of Entergy's progress in decommissioning, the position relative to some state issues and they've had a balance of keynote speakers, subject matter experts in decommissioning," said Lynch. "And I think for 2016, you'll see a lot of the same type of information being provided, so we're continually getting information out to the public."
All NDCAP meetings are recorded by BCTV, Lynch has provided information to Rotary Clubs and held forums throughout the Tri-state area. Other updates are provided through SAFSTOR and at http://vydecommissioning.com/
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