Vermont Yankee fuel pad won't be approved this year

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VERNON >> A key, early milestone in Vermont Yankee decommissioning is moving all of the facility's spent nuclear fuel into long-term "dry" storage.

But plant owner Entergy first needs to construct a new pad to hold those dry casks, and it will be quite a while before the state gives permission for that project: According to a new schedule issued by the Vermont Public Service Board, the permitting process is expected to extend well into 2016.

In fact, some say it could be a year or more before a permit is issued.

Nevertheless, both state officials and an Entergy administrator on Thursday said an extended review won't delay work planned at the Vernon plant.

"This is a schedule that, if met, will allow us to keep to the schedule that we proposed for the dry-cask storage," Entergy spokesman Martin Cohn said, adding that the process was "agreed to by both parties — by Entergy and the state."

Vermont Yankee ceased producing power in December, and the property is headed into an extended period of dormancy called SAFSTOR before actual decommissioning work commences. But there is work to be done in the meantime, and Entergy's shutdown settlement with the state mandates that "spent nuclear fuel should be moved from the spent-fuel pool to dry-cask storage in a timely manner."

Entergy administrators expect that they'll be done moving the fuel into more-stable dry casks by the end of 2020. In June 2014, the company filed an application for a state certificate of public good to build a pad designed to hold additional casks.

It's clear, though, that this is not just a concrete pad. Late last year, Entergy asked for a delay in the permitting process until late winter or early spring "due to ongoing engineering studies which have the potential to alter the design of its proposal."

New state documents show that, on April 29, the Public Service Board — the body that issues certificates of public good — held a status conference on the project. The result was a detailed schedule for reviewing Entergy's plans for a spent-fuel pad.

Notably, the board says there will be a site visit and a "public hearing to be held in Vernon" on June 4. A time and place for that hearing have not yet been set but will be publicly announced, officials said Thursday.

Cohn said the hearing will include an explanation of changes made from Entergy's original proposal.

"It is an opportunity, on June 4, for people to come and hear about this second pad," he said.

Also notable in the latest state documents is the extended schedule for the Public Service Board's review. There are deadlines for filings and responses scattered throughout the remainder of 2015; a deposition deadline in February 2016; and, later that same month, a technical hearing. Briefs are due over the course of five weeks after that.

Aaron Kisicki, an attorney for the Vermont Department of Public Service, said the lengthy schedule is necessary "in order to facilitate a thorough review of Entergy's petition to the Public Service Board."

"The proposed (dry cask) pad and the Vermont Yankee site in general are unique in many respects," Kisicki wrote in an e-mail to the Reformer. "The highly engineered pad cannot be moved once it is constructed. The department, the Agency of Natural Resources and other parties will have adequate time under this schedule to thoroughly review the petition and raise any concerns to Entergy and the PSB."

Kisicki added that "the department is focused on ensuring that the pad is properly sited, engineered and constructed in order to facilitate the safe transfer of all spent fuel from the fuel pool to dry cask storage as soon as possible."

Contact Mike Faher at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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