State reassures skeptics on decommissioning

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VERNON — State Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, said that while Windham County may be glad the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is being dismantled and cleaned up decades ahead of schedule, the rest of Vermont is worried there isn't enough money set aside to do the job. But state officials reassured the longtime senator that if it turns out there isn't enough money in the $500 million in the decommissioning trust fund, and the additional $250 million that new owner NorthStar Group Services has lined up as a financial cushion or guarantee if needed, the state would know it way in advance.

NorthStar last month completed the purchase of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor from Entergy Nuclear; it plans to demolish and clean up the boiling water reactor decades earlier than originally proposed by Entergy, which owned the plan for the last 17 years. Both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Utility Commission had required NorthStar and Entergy to come up with additional financial resources to pay for the cleanup.

Alison Wannop of the Department of Public Service told MacDonald and other members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel Thursday night at the Vernon Elementary School that NorthStar's expenses and spending would be closely monitored - on a monthly basis. If expenses outstrip the money available, one scenario could be that the decommissioning would be halted and what's left of the trust fund left to grow until it reaches the necessary amount to cover expenses, Wannop told MacDonald.

MacDonald said he understands why people in the Windham County area are happy with NorthStar's plan to demolish and clean up Yankee decades ahead of Entergy Nuclear's original timeframe, which would have delayed clean up for about 60 years. MacDonald said if he lived in Windham County, he would be happy too with the large construction and demolition project, with jobs that would help off-set the loss of the nuclear jobs.

Vermont Yankee's decommissioning trust fund was pay for by its former ratepayers, he said, and not Entergy.

June Tierney, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, told MacDonald that the Vermont attorney general's office would be able to enforce the provisions of the pre-sale agreement or memorandum of understanding, which would protect the state from having to finish paying for the decommissioning.

Justin Kolber, an assistant attorney general, said the additional $250 million in financial assurances protects the public. Wannop said the state was in the process of filling two positions that will oversee the financial aspects of the decommissioning, and will be monitoring whether NorthStar's project is on track and on budget.

MacDonald and others said the major concern is whether additional contamination will be discovered at the Yankee site, once demolition and cleanup begins in full. He said he was concerned who would be "left holding the bag" to pay for decommissioning.

Vernon resident Bob Spencer, chairman of the Vernon Planning Commission, told the panel that his group had done an extensive evaluation of NorthStar's plan, and was convinced the demolition and cleanup could be done as budgeted.

"Our planning commission spent a lot of time and we've done a very good job," he said, noting Vernon was "holding our confidence higher" than MacDonald.

Earlier in the meeting, Corey Daniels, the former Entergy Nuclear decommissioning manager who now works for NorthStar, said there are about 30 people currently working at Vermont Yankee who are either former Entergy employees or contractors, and eight more will be hired shortly to work on the decommissioning, which is expected to take about 10 years.

Daniels said work has begun on removing fuel racks from Yankee's spent fuel pool. He said there are "a lot of moving parts" as the NorthStar staff gears up for a large and complex project. He said the company's goal is "zero accidents, zero errors," calling the decommissioning a large project "and we're not going to make any large errors."

He said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had conducted a recent inspection at Yankee, as the fuel racks were being dismantled and prepared for shipment.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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