Spent fuel at Vermont Yankee raises concerns among Nuclear Decommissioning Advisory Panel


BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel met Thursday, Jan. 28, and no decisions were met after a discussion that went at least 30 minutes past the set time.

The controversial topic was around whether to adopt "point three" of the Certificate of Public Good for a second dry cask storage pad. Point three states, "the cost of the dry fuel storage relocation or new ISFSI (independent spent fuel storage installation) construction, should any be required to accomplish site restoration, will be borne by the property owner." No actions were taken at Thursday's meeting, but given the relevance of the issue, the NDCAP committee put together to work on the advisory opinion on the Certificate of Public Good for the second dry cask storage pad is going to meet on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 3 p.m. at the Windham Regional Commission offices on Main Street in Brattleboro.

"This is advisory, not regulatory, not policy, which is what Public Service Board is," said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster. "I don't see why '3' should be dropped, even if Entergy made its case."

Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee announced on Dec. 16, 2015, that it plans to transfer spent nuclear fuel from "wet" to "dry" storage starting in 2017. All nuclear waste that is in the spent fuel pool would be transferred to dry cask storage and would be placed on two storage pads, which is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020. The plant's ability to transfer all spent fuel to two Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation pads relies on the receipt of a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board, which is considering whether to allow ENVY to begin construction of the second storage pad in early 2016.

Two motions were made in regards to the CPG at Thursday's meeting, but during the same sitting, they were both withdrawn after a 40-plus minute back and forth conversation among the panel. Some members of the panel were concerned because they believed there was some confusion around expenditures between the U.S. Department of Energy and Entergy.

According to the CPG Advisory Opinion Draft, support around including point three would be because delays or other interference caused by the ISFSI being adjacent to the facility to be dismantled are a public concern, and any associated costs should be borne by the owner and not the public or the Decommissioning Trust Fund. If the location is indeed not a problem then this should be a "moot point."

As for the stated reason against including this point, the CPG Advisory Draft shows that "it is similar to testimony submitted to the PSB by other parties and with which ENVY disagrees, so it logically is not something that ENVY could endorse here. Supporting it here and opposing it at the PSB would be inconsistent."

With differing opinions and not enough time to make a decision at Thursday night's meeting, O'Connor called for the NDCAP committee to meet at a later it date and work on it then.

"So the plan is that the working group will get together ASAP and work on that," said O'Connor.

The committee will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 3 p.m. at the Windham Regional Commission offices on Main Street in Brattleboro to work on the advisory opinion on the Certificate of Public Good for the second dry cask storage pad. The full panel will then consider the language at a Feb. 25 meeting.

In other matters at Thursday's meeting Joe Lynch, manager of governmental affairs at Entergy, gave an update on decommissioning activities. His presentation mimicked his discussion with SAFSTOR Matters during the show's latest episode that was filmed on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Much of his talk touched on the issues of the dry cask storage pad.

Entergy wants to construct a second storage pad adjacent to the one that's already in place. According to Lynch each pad has a capacity of 40 cannisters and he believes they will need 45 additional cannisters to the 13 loaded casks that sit at the plant site now. This is why Lynch and his team believe an additional pad is needed.

Those issues may resurface at the Public Service Board's technical hearings at 112 State St. in Montpelier on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24.

Lynch also provided an update on the Decommissioning Trust Fund. On Jan. 1, 2015, the fund stood at $664,558,000 and by Dec. 31, 2015 it was at $595,443,000, a $69,115,000 difference. According to Lynch the trust money has been used for three purposes: physical decommissioning, market losses, and gain and trust fees such as administrative and taxes imposed by the trustee for maintaining the trust. Lynch said the project is "under budget" and "on course."

Lynch and the panel were not the only people who took the floor. Five individuals gave brief presentations regarding groundwater monitoring of the Vermont Yankee site: Marjorie Gale, the state geologist; Pat Parenteau, a professor of law at Vermont Law School; Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster; George Desch of the state Department of Environmental Conservation; and Bill Irwin of the state Department of Health. Both Deen and Irwin are members of the panel.

Entergy's funding for the state's groundwater monitoring program and federal guidelines for emergency planning outside the Vermont Yankee boundaries will expire this April.

Irwin, the DOH radiological health chief, said Vermont's monitoring has detected strontium 90 in 31 samples from 16 wells at Vermont Yankee, or 10 percent of all groundwater samples. However, all findings were below current federal safe drinking water standards.

Irwin also said recent samples from 31 monitoring wells at Vermont Yankee showed traces of the 2010 radioactive tritium spillage at Vermont Yankee and that some samples show strontium 90, a highly radioactive substance that unlike tritium has a long half life. He noted that the levels of strontium 90 are a fraction of the levels established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The presentation was in anticipation of the discussion of the groundwater monitoring advisory opinions set to take place at the Feb. 25, NDCAP meeting.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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