Entergy executive praises VY staff, pledges transparency


VERNON -- Entergy executives already have begun to disclose plans for shutting down and decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

And those plans will become even more clear when a detailed site assessment -- billed as the first of its kind -- is released, likely later this month.

The long-term future of the plant property, however, is much less clear. When Entergy executive Bill Mohl visited Vernon on Thursday, he offered assurance that "there will be usable space" after decommissioning but had a much harder time envisioning what the site may look like in 50 years.

"There are a number of options. You want to return it to a safe state. You want to turn it into a site that could be used for other purposes," Mohl said in an interview with the Reformer. "It really depends on what's appropriate at the time. You have different interests. Some people would like to see it as a park. Some people would like to see it as an industrial park."

The major factor, he said, will be how long spent nuclear fuel is stored on concrete pads at the site. And Mohl said there are a variety of possibilities on that front.

"There are practical realities of what you will be able to do based on what happens with the fuel. We're going to have the fuel on the pad, and that will continue to be protected," he said. "That gets into the question of, what happens with long-term fuel storage such as (Nevada's) Yucca Mountain? Or is there an interim fuel-storage facility where you can put that fuel in place until a long-term storage facility is completed?"

Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said he tries to visit the company's plants "on a regular basis." But with Vermont Yankee scheduled to cease producing power at year's end, he said he came to Vernon "to thank the employees for the way they've operated the plant. I think the plant has operated 552 days in a row, and they have operated extremely well in the face of a lot of adversity."

Mohl also met with Yankee staff "to make sure we're addressing all their concerns." He dubbed that staff "world-class," but many plant employees know their time in Vernon is drawing to a close.

A few weeks ago, Entergy executives said the plant's workforce of approximately 550 to 560 will be cut to 316 in early 2015. Another big reduction is due in spring 2016, when there will be 127 personnel needed on site.

"As a company, we have made a commitment to try to find jobs for anyone who wants a job at another one of our sites or in another part of our business," Mohl said.

"We've found jobs for over 100 of them at other Entergy sites," he said. "There are some that we haven't found jobs for, and there are some who just choose to either retire or stay in the area. So we're also trying to work with third parties to have job fairs and those types of things -- to make sure we are actively promoting every opportunity for them to gain employment if they wish to do so."

At the same time, Entergy is working to ensure that Vermont Yankee has adequate staff to safely operate and begin decommissioning, Mohl said.

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"We were very thoughtful of that when we made the decision (to shut down the plant), so we put tools in place such as retention agreements where we basically will pay a premium for folks who actually stay through the shutdown of the facility," Mohl said. "The people are absolutely critical, so that was part of our plan."

Nuclear power remains a key part of Entergy's overall plan, in spite of the fact that Vermont Yankee is closing.

"We are a strong believer in nuclear energy. We currently have nine sites with 11 units. It will now be eight sites with 10 units (after Yankee closes)," Mohl said. "But we remain fully committed to the industry. We remain fully committed to those plants. We have no intentions of shutting any other facilities down at this point in time. We're just really working to make sure we safely and reliably operate these units and, on the business side, we're working to ensure that the marketplace that we compete in provides us a reasonable opportunity to earn a fair return. So we're working on the market-structure issues in New England."

As part of an agreement with the state, Entergy also is working on an assessment of the Vermont Yankee site. Though the document technically is due by year's end, Mohl said he expects it by the end of October.

The assessment will include an updated cost estimate for the decommissioning process known as SAFSTOR.

"And you'll see, probably for the first time, what a (cost) estimate would be if you went immediately into decommissioning," Mohl said. "What that means is that you start right away. But you have to keep in mind that, the settlement with the state says we really don't start decommissioning until we have adequate funding in the nuclear decommissioning trust."

Per Entergy's deal with the state, the site assessment also must include a "full assessment of non-radiological conditions" at the Yankee property -- in other words, everything that has to be addressed during decommissioning. That will include accounts of how the site has been impacted over the plant's entire life span -- not just during Entergy's ownership.

"Obviously folks are concerned about, what's the environmental impact," Mohl said. "They'll have a reference document that shows everything that's happened."

Mohl characterized the site assessment as "the first of its kind in terms of the amount of information provided and the transparency" -- the latter term being a buzzword in recent discussions about Vermont Yankee's decommissioning.

"We have to take a balanced approach. I think you've seen a specific effort to be open, honest, trusting," Mohl said.

"We have interests. We have points of view on things. But the key is to keep the conversation going together and working through the issues. And that's why we're committed to transparency," he added. "I'm sure there are going to be items we don't agree on. But in the past, where everyone would kind of go back to their corners, we're really trying to avoid that. Sometimes there's no alternative. But we really are working hard to be a good partner in this."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.


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