Safety, jobs hot topics at VY decommissioning meeting

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HINSDALE, N.H. -- Entergy announced last year its plans to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon by the end of 2014, but nearby residents are still skeptical of how the site will be maintained and decontaminated in the coming decades.

At a public informational meeting on Thursday, Pete Szacik, of Keene, seemed critical of the decades-long period spent fuel would have to remain stored on the property and Windham Regional Commission Executive Director Chris Campany stood up to ask about the likelihood of the land being used again while the cooled fuel is in dry cask storage.

The meeting, which had been postponed last month due to a scheduling conflict, was held in the Hinsdale Middle/High School gymnasium and aimed to give concerned citizens a chance to ask questions of various officials from the state departments of Resources and Economic Development, Environmental Services, and Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Division of Public Health Services, the Southwest Regional Planning Commission and Gov. Maggie Hassan's Working Group on the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning. Roughly 60 people -- including several state representatives -- were in attendance to listen to information about Entergy's humanitarian contributions, the science behind spent fuel storage, the fate of Yankee's employees and the impact the plant's closure will have on the local economy.

The two-hour meeting was facilitated by State Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene.

Szacik asked Jay Tarzia, the president of Radiation Safety & Control Services in Stratham, to define long-term storage and was told the fuel would probably be stored for about 50 years, though it could be as brief as 20 or 30. Tarzia said Yankee's spent fuel pool currently stores the majority of fuel at the plant and explained 13 dry cask storage containers have been safely loaded and stored on the first of two planned storage pads. An application for a second pad has been submitted to the Vermont Public Service Board for a Certificate of Public Good. He explained dry cask storage is a method of storing fuel on a site for relatively long periods of time and was developed to give the United States government more time to conceive a solution for highly radioactive fuel, like countries such as France have done. But there is more than one way of doing this.

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"When you buy a car, you have choices. When a nuclear power decides to close down, it has choices," Tarzia said.

He explained the dry casks typically have thick metal or steel-reinforeced concrete outer shells and a sealed inner metal cylinder. Fuel is passively cooled through bottom and top vents. Tarzia said a typical cask radiates an amount of heat comparable to a home-heating system and is designed to withstand floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, projectiles and temperature extremes. He sought to reassure the public that the casks are durable by telling them the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires casks to undergo specific tests that include a 30-foot free fall onto an unyielding surface and a 40-inch drop onto a steel rod that is six inches in diameter.

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Tarzia also mentioned dry cask storage is less complex and passive than spent fuel pools and dry cask facilities are subject to similar security requirements as operational nuclear plants. He said the NRC would continue to evaluate the security of any nuclear facilities. Entergy announced on Oct. 17 it has selected the SAFSTOR remediation option, authorized by the NRC, for site clean-up.

Campany later asked if the site could be used again, even if fuel-filled dry casks are present. Michele Sampson, chief of the NRC's Spent Fuel Storage Division, said it is possible, but not likely. She could not, however, give any guarantees.

Carmen Lorentz, the Director of the N.H. Division of Economic Development, said an unemployment seminar was held in September for Yankee employees and 89 people showed up. Entergy is also working with the New Hampshire Department of Labor to conduct job fairs and unemployment seminars. The plant reportedly has 630 employees, 217 of whom live in New Hampshire.

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Chris Wamser, the site vice president of Vermont Yankee, said he oversees the plant and went through the decommisioning expected cost with the people in attendance. He said the plant's decommissioning is expected to cost $1.24 billion, as termination of the NRC operating license will likely run $817 million, site restoration will probably cost $57 million and spent fuel management will come with a $368 million pricetag.

Wamser also listed expected upcoming milestones. He said Vermont Yankee will cease plant operations by the end of 2014 and the defueling of the reactor will be completed by January 2015. System abandonment and decommissioning modifications will occur later that year and the installation of the second storage pad will likely happen in 2016 or 2017. There will then be protected area security modifications from 2016 through 2018.

The vice president also said Yankee has maintained a consistent and unwavering commitment to its employees since the shutdown announcement and "efforts to place employees across the Entergy fleet is a significant and on-going effort." He said level staffing will remain through the plant's normal operation and into early 2015 and personnel reductions will take place at key milestones throughout the transition to SAFSTOR.

Wamser referred to the plant has currently being in "coast-down mode."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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