Vermont seeks more input on Vermont Yankee decom plans

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BRATTLEBORO >> Attorney General William H. Sorrell, the Department of Public Service, the Agency of Natural Resources, and the Department of Health filed comments Friday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding Entergy's proposed plans for decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear power facility in Vernon.

The comments, based on collaborative work of the state offices, explain the state's concerns with Entergy's post-closure plans and request that the NRC require Entergy to fully address the state's concerns. Those concerns include whether Entergy has done enough work to determine what contamination currently exists at the plant, and whether Entergy will have enough money to fund all of the needed work.

The state is also challenging the adequacy of the environmental analysis that has occurred to date and the assumptions made by Entergy regarding emergency planning.

"We are not going to stand aside while Entergy plows forward with plans that have not been properly evaluated from a financial or environmental standpoint," stated Attorney General Sorrell. "The NRC has a duty to scrutinize Entergy's plans and address the many valid points we have raised in today's filing."

Christopher Recchia, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, told the Reformer that the state raised many of the same points when it submitted comments to Entergy on the Post Decommissioning Activies Report. Earlier this week, Entergy supplied a list of 42 responses, not many of which were satisfactory, he said.

"There's nothing more annoying than receiving a response in which they didn't expound upon the substance of the questions we asked," said Recchia.

Martin Cohn, spokesman for the decommissioning process at Yankee, said the state was commenting on the draft PSDAR that was provided in October of 2014. He said the responses that were provided to the state this week reflected changes made to the PSDAR that was submitted to the NRC at the beginning of 2015.

Recchia disagreed. He said the questions sent Entergy were reflective of the updated PSDAR sent to the NRC.

"I appreciate Entergy's response, but with the exception of correcting a couple of typographical errors in the PSDAR, they did not address any of our questions."

A number of Windham County legislators also addressed a letter of concern to the NRC.

"We ... feel we have a moral obligation to deal effectively with this problem and not to leave it for future generations," they wrote, arguing against the SAFSTOR option for cleaning up the site, which means Entergy has up to 60 years to complete decommissioning.

"Our community is a special case that will not benefit from a cookie cutter approach. We are only the second merchant reactor to decommission. Moreover, Entergy is located on the second smallest land area of any US nuclear plant. It also is located in the middle of a town and has an elementary school located across from the gate to the plant. All of these factors contribute to making Entergy an unsuitable site for SAFSTOR."

The letter was signed by senators Jeanette White and Becca Balint and Rep. Valerie A. Stuart, Rep. Tristan Toleno, Rep. Mollie Burke, Rep. David Deen, Rep. Mike Mrowicki, Rep. Emily Long and Rep. Ann Manwaring.

"Entergy has reviewed the Windham County delegation's comments to the NRC on the VY Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report," wrote Cohn in an email to the Reformer. "The decision to select SAFSTOR for VY is described in our PSDAR submittal and is based on prudent use of the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust, radiological safety, NRC acceptance of this option and impact on public health and safety."

Recchia said the major point of dispute between the state and Entergy is when the trust fund will be at the level necessary to clean up the site.

"They are dedicated to cleaning up the site, but only on their terms," he said. While Entergy hasn't clarified exactly when clean up will be done, Recchia believes, if the fund grows as reliably as it has over the past few years, the site could be released sometime around 2030. "We continue to look for ways to work constructively with them to get this done as soon as possible."

Another point of contention between the state and Entergy is how much of the structures now on site will be removed. The NRC requires that they only be removed three feet below grade and then backfilled with clean materials. The PSDAR reflects this requirement, said Recchia, but returning the site to a "greenfield" status as required by an agreement between the state and Entergy means removing everything, and not just to three feet deep.

Because the PSDAR calls for removal to only three feet, the decommissioning cost estimate may not truly reflect the costs to comply with the agreement with the state.

Entergy estimates it will cost $838 million to conduct radiological decommissioning of the plant, and estimates range as high as $1.2 billion to completely remediate the site. The trust fund has about $643 million in it. Entergy had been asking the NRC to allow it to withdraw money from the trust fund to manage the spent fuel at the site, but earlier this year, it announced it was pursuing a $143 million line of credit to pay for spent fuel costs. That's good news, said Recchia.

"That's huge step in the right direction," he said. "That means a major expense is removed from decommissioning. This helps to avoid a huge fight with the state and avoid reducing the principal of the fund."

According to an agreement reached with the state prior to the plant's shutdown, Entergy agreed to commence decommissioning once the fund has reached a sufficient level. But Recchia said there is some disagreement over what the sufficient level is. He believes the financial assumptions that drive this decommissioning plan out many decades are not tenable.

David Mears, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation in the Agency of Natural Resources, stated the state's filing filing on Friday makes clear that additional information is required to ensure that Entergy's plan to investigate and remediate non-radiological contamination on site is the most protective of human health and the environment.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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