NRC denies state request to delay EPZ exemption at Vermont Yankee

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BRATTLEBORO >> Stating an attorney for the state could not prove "a sincere effort" was made to contact Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a quasi-judicial panel denied a request from Vermont to delay consideration of a plan to eliminate the emergency preparedness zone at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

But, stated an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel, Vermont could refile its request "after making the required consultations."

On March 12, the state of Vermont filed a motion for a stay in the proceeding, in which it contended the NRC "failed to consider the State's comments regarding the adverse impacts" of granting the request to eliminate the EPZ in April 2016.

"The Exemption Request was not noticed in the Federal Register. Likewise, NRC's voting record on the Exemption Request does not reflect consideration of the State's comments addressing the Exemption Request and filed in conjunction with the (License Amendment Request) Petition."

In December of 2014, Yankee ceased operations and Entergy, which owned and operated the plant since 2002, began the process of placing the facility into SAFSTOR, which gives it 60 years to remediate the site.

As part of the plant's closure, staffing has been reduced and Entergy, as other decommissioned plants have done in the past, has requested a license amendment to allow it to reduce its responsibility to offsite emergency management agencies and contract its zone of response to the actual footprint of the plant. The reduction wouldn't occur until April 2016, when all nuclear material is expected to be removed from the spent fuel pool and placed in dry cask storage.

On March 2, the commission of the NRC granted the staff's request to approve Entergy's LAR.

"The NRC violated its own precedent and relevant federal law when it approved the Exemption Request, rather than allowing the exemption request to be considered as part of the LAR hearing, and did so without an opportunity for public comment or participation and without considering comments filed by the State," wrote Aaron Kisicki, counsel for the Vermont Department of Public Service, in the March 12 filing. "The NRC should have granted a hearing on an exemption request when, as here, the exemption is necessary for a licensee to amend its license. Lastly, the NRC should reconsider the Exemption Request because, even if it is granted, Entergy may not implement many of the changes it seeks to make to its (site emergency plan) and (emergency action level). Entergy is subject to long-standing commitments it made to the State related to emergency response and preparedness."

NRC staff argued Vermont is not entitled to comment on the exemption, but Kisicki wrote the NRC has established that an intervenor has status to comment when an exemption request is "directly related" to a licensing amendment action, and an intervenor raises an admissible contention related to the exemption.

Kisicki also accused the NRC of two violations of federal law when it approved the exemption request without providing an opportunity for public comment.

The NRC needs to prepare an environmental impact statement prior to issuing an exemption request, contended Kisicki.

"There has been no previous environmental analysis of potential impacts from VY being exempted from the usual emergency preparedness requirements such as a 10-mile EPZ, since the 10-mile EPZ and other requirements were assumed to remain in place during all previous licensing and relicensing proceedings."

Kisicki also noted that the lack of public participation prior to the issuance of the decision was a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act.

"To date, the NRC has not solicited public comment, held a hearing, or made any other effort at public participation, even though the NRC must know the public is greatly concerned with this matter."

Kisicki asked the NRC to consider Entergy's obligations to the state which go above and beyond NRC requirements.

"Any NRC action on the exemptions and directly related LAR do not relieve Entergy of these obligations."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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