Officials say Nuclear Regulatory Commission panels need funding
BRATTLEBORO — State and local officials told staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week that citizen panels working on nuclear decommissioning issues need more resources.
June Tierney, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, and Christopher Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, said the citizen panels need financial help — and they suggested it should come from the owners of the nuclear plants undergoing demolition and cleanup.
Campany, who is the current chairman of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, and Tierney, who has also served as the chairwoman of the panel, said resources would help the overall goal of educating the public and addressing the public's concerns about decommissioning.
Tierney said the NRC's attention to the citizen panel issue was "long overdue," and a "welcome development."
She said the Vermont panel needs more "everyday people" to serve, and convey to the public "what it means to live" near a nuclear plant being decommissioned.
She said it is clear to her that "resources were not adequate," but she said she didn't think the cost of the panels should fall on "ratepayers or taxpayers of Vermont."
The NRC is halfway through 10 hearings nationwide on the issue of "best practices" of the citizen panels. The NRC held its hearing at the Brattleboro Middle School on Sept. 10.
Turnout was light compared to many of the other hearings, including one the next evening in Plymouth, Mass., home to the recently shut down Pilgrim nuclear plant.
The NRC has to make a report to the U.S. Congress next year about the recommended "best practices."
Deb Katz, executive director of the Citizens Action Network, said her organization has been involved in decommissioning of two other reactors, and the citizen panels were essentially powerless.
"They have no power," she said, while urging the NRC to "do the right thing" and find a way to give people more of a say in the overall process.
Donald Hudson of Maine, who serves as chairman of the citizen panel associated with the decommissioned Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, said the community of Wiscasset is still dealing with the high level radioactive waste and other nuclear waste left behind in casks, more than 20 years after the decommissioning started.
The waste, Hudson said, is waiting to be transported to a federal waste site that has yet to be approved, permitted or built.
He said that Raymond Shadis, a representative from the Maine Yankee citizens panel, was basically given an office at the decommissioned plant in an effort at transparency while the plant was being torn down and cleaned up.
His group now meets once a year, he said. "But we're not going to quit until the fuel" is moved away, he said.
Two current citizen members of the panel, Lissa Weinmann of Brattleboro and Derrick Jordan of Putney, also urged the NRC to require additional resources for the panel.
"We need to have resources," said Weinmann, vice chairwoman of the panel. "We need significant resources that should fall to the plant's owner."
She noted that many panel members are paid to be on the panel, either because they work for NorthStar or work for the state of Vermont.
But a new panel member, Josh Unruh, who is chairman of the Vernon Select Board and who was recently appointed to the panel by Gov. Phil Scott, said he feels the panel is useless, and now that the plant is under active decommissioning by its new owner NorthStar Nuclear Holding Co., the panel in his opinion serves no purpose and he is going to work to shut it down.
NorthStar president Scott State, who did not speak during the hearing, said afterward that his company is also working with the anti-nuclear group, New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, to set up another citizen group closer to the community to address concerns about decommissioning, which could take as long as eight to 10 years. State said decommissioning work was ahead of schedule.
Representatives from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who helped push through Congress the requirement of the citizen panel report, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT., thanked the NRC for holding a hearing in Vermont and listening to Vermont concerns.
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