VERNON — Dismantling and cleanup of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is on schedule, with more to come in the next two years, a NorthStar Group Services Inc. official said Monday.
Corey Daniels, senior decommissioning manager for NorthStar, told the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel on Monday night that some safety standards that had been in place because of the radiation were being lifted.
Scott State, chief executive officer of NorthStar, said in a follow-up email conversation Tuesday that “certain legacy safety systems are deactivated as they become unnecessary.”
“We have major components to remove from the reactor building and decontamination activities to complete as well as removing the turbine and reactor building structures. These tasks are all coming up over the next 24 months,” he said.
“Overall, the project’s schedule is on track,” said Daniels.
He said the portion of the project taking apart the reactor core was “a little behind,” but that the work had now reached the bottom of the reactor vessel, which held the nuclear fuel.
“The reactor removal project is nearing completion,” he said.
State said that the project was on budget and on time, although the segmentation of the reactor vessel was taking longer than anticipated.
“The project is 100 percent on budget, and no cost overruns are expected,” State said. While radiological decommissioning is on track, State said, “it is not really nearing completion.”
“The segmentation ... is scheduled to be completed in a few months, but since it is not on our critical path, it too has not impacted to our overall schedule,” State said.
Vermont Yankee shut down in December 2014 after operating for 43 years. Its owner at the time, Entergy Nuclear, blamed the New England power market for its decision, which came shortly after a federal appeals court rejected a Vermont state challenge to Entergy’s authority over the operation of the reactor.
A few years later, Entergy also shut down its other New England and New York reactors, Pilgrim Nuclear in 2019 and Indian Point in 2021. Northstar bought the closed reactor in January 2019 from Entergy for a symbolic $1,000 and its original $506 million trust fund.
Daniels said that there had been no accidents at the Vernon decommissioning site, even as the worker job time topped 1.3 million hours.
“We don’t take it for granted,” he said of safety protocols.
So far, NorthStar has shipped 425 rail cars worth of radioactive material to a low-level radioactive waste facility in west Texas.
Those shipments, he said, included 23,000 tons of material, containing 35,500 curies of radioactivity.
Daniels said that the scope and focus of the NorthStar work was shifting from the specialty radiological work to “industrial decommissioning work now.”
Eric Guzman, special counsel for the Vermont Department of Public Service, gave the panel an update on the remaining money in the two decommissioning trust funds. The main decommissioning trust fund now stands at $242.3 million, Guzman said, down from $276 million in December 2021, and the site restoration fund is at $52.2 million, as of April 30, down from $56.8 million on Dec. 31.
Graham Bradley, a hydrogeologist with the Agency of Natural Resources, said that, while there had been some areas of contamination found during testing, they were in areas expected to be contaminated with fuel oil or petroleum spills.
He said one area, near the east cooling tower, was larger than expected, and had been excavated 20 feet by 25 feet, and 2 feet deep. The soil was shipped offsite, he said.
He said the latest round of groundwater well testing had been conducted in March, and depending on the test results, that some monitoring wells could be decommissioned.
The meeting, which started without a proper quorum, was missing all of its legislative members, as well as several key state officials, as the 2022 Legislature is working toward adjournment.
But Chairwoman Emily Davis of Brattleboro said it was important for those panel members who had made the effort to attend the virtual meeting via Zoom to hear an update from NorthStar, since the next panel meeting wasn’t until Sept. 19. The panel eventually did gain another member to give it a legal quorum, although the panel took no votes on Monday night.
Two anti-nuclear activists criticized the panel for not doing more to publicize its work, in particular an advisory opinion passed by a subcommittee of the panel dealing with federal policy on nuclear fuel storage.
Lissa Weinmann, a panel member from Brattleboro and chairwoman of the subcommittee, said it would now be looking into the issue of the durability of the casks holding the nuclear fuel on the grounds of Vermont Yankee.
The casks are made of concrete and steel, and Weinmann said the panel would also look into who is responsible for their upkeep, since the casks are expected to stay in Vernon until 2052, or until the U.S. Department of Energy finally takes ownership of the spent nuclear fuel and builds a national repository.