No COVID-19 cases found at Vermont Yankee

On Dec. 29, 2014, Vermont Yankee went offline and all the fuel was removed from the nuclear reactor on Jan. 12, 2015. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a permit to a close affiliate of NorthStar, the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, to build the country's first high-level radioactive waste disposal site in Texas.

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VERNON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a permit to a close affiliate of NorthStar, the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, to build the country’s first high-level radioactive waste disposal site in Texas.

But the permit for the west Texas site, immediately sets up a federal-versus-state’s rights issue, as the state of Texas passed legislation just last week that would ban such a facility.

The facility is slated to accept the high-level radioactive waste that’s being stored at nuclear reactor sites all over the country — including at Vermont Yankee in Vernon and Yankee Rowe in nearby Rowe, Mass.

NorthStar’s corporate cousin — Waste Control Specialists — along with Orano USA, which is also actively involved in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning, are acting as Interim Storage Partners LLC. They want to build the high-level radioactive waste facility immediately next to the already existing Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive waste facility that currently is receiving the demolition debris and other low-level waste from Vermont Yankee.

NorthStar Vermont Yankee and Waste Control Specialists share the same president, Scott State.

State, through a company spokesman, declined to comment Tuesday on the NRC decision or the Texas opposition.

Not in a hot Texas minute

But according to Texas newspaper accounts, Gov. Greg Abbott said his state did not want the country’s high-level radioactive waste to come to Texas, period.

20 years after 9/11, Yankee's nuclear fuel still poses security risk

Abbott, who signed the law last week, wrote to the NRC that the facility presented “a greater radiological risk than Texas is prepared to allow,” according to published reports.

The facility, which is also opposed by the commissioners of Andrews County, where the facility would be located, also drew opposition from the oil industry, which is worried about possible effect on their activities in the Permian Basin, a highly productive oil field, according to the Texas Tribune.

Staffers see little interest or action on nuclear waste issues

High-level radioactive waste is mostly the former nuclear fuel that is being stored in giant concrete and steel casks at individual storage facilities on the grounds of both current and former reactors.

In the case of Vermont Yankee, all of its nuclear fuel now sits in giant canisters on a concrete pad north of the plant, which is undergoing demolition. The storage facility is under constant guard, as it remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

Originally the government had a plan to build a federal permanent repository that was going to be built under Yucca Mountain in Nevada, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.

Yucca Mtn.: Not a stable site

But under the Obama administration, and after geologic tests showed the site was not as geologically stable as originally described, work stopped on Yucca Mountain, and did not resume under the Trump administration.

By law, the nuclear waste belongs to the federal Department of Energy, but the federal government has not taken ownership of the waste since it has no place to put it.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said states, such as Texas, do have legal options.

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NRC approves 'indirect' license transfer for Vermont Yankee

“States can request a hearing on interim repository applications. And, if they are unhappy with the outcome of that process, they can file an appeal, first with the commission and, if unsuccessful, in federal court,” Sheehan said Tuesday.

He added that states also have a say when it comes to such local issues as right-of-way permits to access a site, and noted it was an issue for an earlier attempt by Private Fuel Storage to build another high-level waste facility in Utah. That plan was abandoned in 2012. In that case, the issue was rights-of-way for rail expansion.

Sheehan said that the issue of the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which some nuclear activists claim makes such a government facility illegal, was raised in a similar license request still pending before the NRC from another nuclear company. Both facilities are private projects, and are claiming exemption from the 1982 law as a result.

Cask builders eye NM site

Holtec International, which makes many of the casks being used to store spent nuclear fuel (including at Vermont Yankee) wants to build a similar facility on land nearby, but in New Mexico.

“One of the contentions in the hearing process for the New Mexico application was based on this,” Sheehan said. “The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel that handled the request stated that it did not need to rule on that as Holtec said it was considering making agreements directly with plant owners if DOE funding was not viable.”

A panel of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel has been studying the issue of interim storage for the past eight months.

Lissa Weinmann of Brattleboro, panel vice chairwoman, said Tuesday that the NRC permit was likely the beginning of a long undertaking.

“It’s likely only one step out of a 1,000-step process,” she said.

Appeal on Interim Storage Partners permit?

Kevin Kamps of the national anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear, said in an email that his organization planned on appealing the NRC permit given to Interim Storage Partners.

{div}”The permit is closely related to the Vermont Yankee site. NorthStar is very closely related to Interim Storage Partners. Waste Control Specialists and Orano are a part of both. The irradiated nuclear fuel at Vermont Yankee could be shipped to ISP’s consolidated interim storage facility in Texas, once it is constructed and opened. We will fight it till the bitter end,” Kamps said.{/div}

The basic problem, Weinmann said, is the nuclear industry keeps producing more radioactive waste, with no permanent place to put it. The problem is no state wants it.

“Would Vermont want it?” she said, noting that Vermont was studied as a potential site for the permanent underground facility until the government chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

She said that the town of Vernon feels safe with the Yankee fuel stored in the concrete and steel canisters, until a federal, geologic, underground facility is built by the government.

The town of Vernon has already taken a stand concerning interim storage facility, according to the policy presented by decommissioning panel member Maddy Arms of Vernon. That policy said the town would not support a facility that did not have local support or consent.

Arms on Tuesday declined to say whether Vernon would support the Waste Control Specialists’ project, saying the Vernon Select Board would be meeting next week.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.