Report: Decom. costs not clear

Saturday January 15, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- A nuclear decommissioning expert says estimates to dismantle the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant are too old and don’t reflect the current state of the economy.

According to study released Thursday from Fairewinds Associates, a consultancy hired by the state Legislature to analyze the decommissioning fund, the documents created in 2006 are "technically and economically outdated."

New technology has been developed "which may dramatically decrease the cost of decommissioning, and those options have not been analyzed for their application to the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee," the report states.

All decommissioning options need to be explored, Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer for Fairewinds Associates, said.

During the previous decommissioning fund update of the nuclear plant in Vernon, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewed the plan and required Entergy to provide a $40 million parent company guarantee to address a shortfall, Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, wrote in an e-mail to the Reformer.

"Looking ahead, nuclear power plant owners will be required to submit new updates on their decommissioning trust funds in March, providing us with another opportunity to scrutinize them," he wrote.

Entergy, which owns and operates Vermont Yankee, could duplicate what’s happening at the Zion Station nuclear power plant in Zion, Ill.

Twelve years ago, that plant’s owner, Commonwealth Edison, was stuck between a rock and a hard place as it couldn’t afford the cost to tear Zion Station down because of the building’s massive size and multiple areas of radioactive contamination. More than $1 billion was needed.

For a decade the plant was in limbo with a $10 million-a-year baby-sitter bill for Commonwealth Edison, which is now part of Exelon.

Instead of hiring a contractor to decommission the plant, the company turned the job and the reactors over to a nuclear demolition company that owns a nuclear dump site.

The process could be 25 percent less expensive, faster and simpler by treating anything that could be considered radioactively contaminated as radioactive waste.

Adam Levin, director of spent fuel and decommissioning at Exelon, told the New York Times that this is a unique arrangement.

He added that others could do the job for less than Exelon and acknowledged, "utilities in general are not very good at tearing plants down."

If this methodology were applied to Vermont Yankee however, it would require more land at the Texas Compact waste disposal site, Gundersen wrote.

There is also new computer software, which has optimized how radioactive waste is packed for shipment, reducing costs and size, according to the report.

Fairewinds Associates recommends that a new decommissioning cost analysis, by an independent firm not owned by Entergy, be conducted.

In May 2009, William Cloutier Jr., a consultant for Entergy, told the Public Service Board that costs to dismantle the plant could be more than $900 million.

Two months later Department of Public Service engineer Uldis Vanags testified to the Public Service Board that the costs would be less than $560 million.

"Such an extraordinarily large range of costs estimates is not conducive to accurate public policy decisions," the report states.

Larry Smith, manager of communications for Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, declined to comment because it had yet to receive the report.

Josh Stilts can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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