Entergy: VY will refuel this fall

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BRATTLEBORO -- Entergy's officials announced Monday they will make the more than $60 million investment to refuel the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant this fall.

J. Wayne Leonard, Entergy's chairman and chief executive officer, wrote in a press release that after reviewing the arguments put forth by all parties involved in their suit against the state of Vermont, the company's board of directors "believes both the merits of the company's legal position and the record strongly support its (case)."

During the two-day hearing for a preliminary injunction last month in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro, John Herron, Chief Nuclear Officer for Entergy, testified that if the plant wasn't able to refuel, it would be "highly likely" that Vermont Yankee would have to be shut down.

The total cost of taking apart the reactor and replacing the fuel elements is approximately $60 to $65 million and the refueling outage itself will cost an additional $35 million, Herron said.

If the plant refuels and runs at full capacity until mid-March, when its current certificate of good expires, it will earn approximately $90 million in revenue, Herron testified. The profit figures for the same time period however, are "not even close" to the $90 million figure.

He testified that a portion of the investment in refueling may be lost if Entergy loses its suit because re-fabricating the new fuel assemblies for use at another facility would cost tens of millions of dollars.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell told the Reformer Entergy's decision to refuel was "no surprise."

"I thought they were crying wolf a little during the hearing," Sorrell said. "Entergy isn't a charity, or a non-profit, they have revenues of $11 billion a year."

This was a business decision, he added.

"The sky wasn't going to fall if Entergy didn't get the preliminary injunction and the judge agreed," Sorrell said. "Lo and behold, the sky's still up there and Entergy made the decision to refuel the plant."

Entergy's officials have investors they have to answer to and the decision to refuel the plant makes sense from a business standpoint as well a legal strategy, he said.

"My guess is that it wouldn't be helpful to Entergy's case if they chose not to refuel," Sorrell said. If officials chose not to refuel the plant and possibly shut it down, it may make it appear as if they were "going to fold up and go away."

In April, Entergy filed a lawsuit against the state claiming its attempt to forbid continued operation of the plant past March 21, 2012, infringes on the federal jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Entergy was seeking a preliminary injunction which would prevent the state of Vermont from shutting the plant down until a final decision of the lawsuit has been resolved.

Last week Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled that Entergy had failed to show that any irreparable harm would befall the company and denied its owners a preliminary injunction.

In 2002, when Entergy purchased the plant, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Vermont that included a number of conditions Entergy had to agree to prior to the sale. Entergy is arguing that two of those conditions -- that the PSB has jurisdiction under current law to grant or deny approval of the plant's continued operation and that Entergy waive any claim it might have to federal preemption of any actions taken by the board -- are no longer valid due to two actions that occurred since the memorandum of understanding was signed.

The first, that the Legislature passed Act 160 in 2006, giving itself the authority to forbid the PSB from issuing a certificate of public good; and the second, that the Legislature's discussion whether to give permission to the PSB to issue the CPG was based on an area of review that is under the sole jurisdiction of the NRC -- safety of the plant.

A trial on the merits of the case is scheduled to being Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Entergy's decision to refuel affirms that Murtha was right when he denied the company the injunction.

"Judge Murtha made clear in his decision to deny Entergy Louisiana's request for a preliminary injunction," Shumlin wrote in a press release. "He didn't buy the company's argument that the injunction was a prerequisite for refueling."

The next refueling outage is scheduled for Oct. 8. During a typical refueling outage approximately 120 fuel assemblies, about one third of the reactor core, are replaced with new fuel assemblies.

Along with replacing the assemblies, 5,000 other tasks that cannot be done while the reactor is operating will be performed, including Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspections, tests and various electrical upgrades, according to an Entergy spokesman.

The decision to refuel has come under fire by opponents of the plant's continued operation.

Entergy's executives and high-priced lawyers used the threat of shutting down the plant as a way to strong arm Murtha and the judge called their bluff, said Vermont Public Interest Research Group's Executive Director Paul Burns.

"So now they're showing that those threats were more lies and instead they will refuel the plant with plans to run the facility past its March, 2012 retirement date," Burns wrote. "This is only the latest example of Entergy Louisiana's irresponsibility, a key reason why Vermont's state government is solidly committed to retiring the old and unreliable reactor as scheduled."

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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