VY closure: Evacuation drills will continue ... for now

Wednesday August 27, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The proposed closing of Vermont Yankee is not likely to affect the ongoing evacuation plans, emergency management officials said Tuesday.

Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday that it will be closing the plant in Vernon in 2014, raising a whole host of questions about decommissioning, jobs, energy costs and future court battles.

But at least for now, towns in the Emergency Planning Zone will continue training for potential emergencies, and receiving funding for the exercises.

Being host to Vermont's only nuclear power plant has required area towns to take part in emergency evacuation drills and some towns, such as Brattleboro and Westminster, receive thousands of dollars every year to support local radiological officers, pager carriers and other positions.

And even though Entergy announced Tuesday that Vermont Yankee would be closing in 2014, as long as there is nuclear material on site at the Vernon reactor area towns will have to continue preparing for an emergency.

"We are going to continue as we always have," said Mark Bosma, public information officer for Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. "As long as there is any kind of risk at the plant we will continue to work on an emergency plan."

Towns in the Emergency Planning Zone hold four drills a year and every other year the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency require graded drills which simulate a nuclear release. Bosma said the next graded drill is planned for 2015. Bosma says he does not know how long the drills and emergency plans will be required.

"This just came down today and I'm sure we will be getting together with NRC and FEMA to start having this discussion," said Bosma. "We need a little time to digest this."

NRC regulations, and the state, require the owners of Vermont Yankee to invest in the Radiological Emergency Response Program Fund and last year Entergy put $2.5 million in to the fund to support emergency drills, staff support and equipment purchases.

Every year Entergy negotiates the amount of money that goes into that fund with legislators.

Erica Bornemann, planning chief at Vermont Division of Emergency Management, said as long as the plant is in service she expects the fund to be completely funded.

Beyond 2014, however, it remains to be seen how much money will go into the fund.

Bornemann also said the emergency drill requirements could change as the plant decommissions, though she stressed that it is still too early to know what the plant's closing will mean to towns in the emergency evacuation zone.

"There are still a lot of balls in the air," she said. "VY doesn't know what will happen and there are a lot of questions about decommissioning that will have to be answered."

This year Brattleboro will get $31,500 to pay staff members to carry pagers, act as radiological emergency responders and take part in the drills, which happen four times a year.

On top of that, Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said, the town is allowed to apply for grants to pay for equipment.

Moreland said the town's experiences running the drills have benefited the staff, especially during Tropical Storm Irene.

"Each of us has a specific responsibility and our plan spells out what everyone is supposed to do in the event of an emergency," Moreland said. "When Irene happened we had our (emergency operations center) running on a moment's notice, and everything worked perfectly."

Bellows Falls Union High School, which is located in Westminster, is an official Vermont Yankee Evacuation Center and every year the town receives money from Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

The department funds four positions in Westminster.

Two people receive a stipend of $1,500 each to carry a pager 24 hours a day, and the town also has a radiological officer who gets $1,000 and an emergency management director who receives $1,000.

The pager carriers are appointed by the Selectboard.

The town also is reimbursed up to $5,000 every year to pay for radios, generators or other equipment related to the emergency evacuation and another $4,000 for training.

"I don't think it is going to affect decommissioning, we still have to prepare in the event of a release," said Westminster Town Clerk Doreen Woodward. "All of this will stay in place. I'm sure it is going to be status quo for a while."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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