Vermont Yankee spent fuel storage issue comes before PSB

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BRATTLEBORO >> The Vermont Public Service Board received the first round of written testimony of state agencies and intervenors this past week regarding Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee's proposal to build an addition to the independent spent fuel storage installation at its Vernon nuclear site.

Testimony from New England Coalition's expert witness, Raymond Shadis, contrasted the Maine Yankee approach to decommissioning and nuclear waste storage to that of Vermont Yankee. Maine Yankee proactively sought out meaningful public participation and engaged in serious negotiations with both state agencies and public advocacy stakeholders to determine an agreed-upon end-state for the site as well as strategies and pathways to achieving it, Shadis said.

"It makes for better decommissioning and waste storage outcomes, but that's just not happening at VY," he stated in a press release.

Shadis also took strong exception to assertions by Entergy's Michael Twomey that all waste fuel would be removed and the ISFSI decommissioning before the end of decommissioning and the termination of the plant's license.

"Even if all goes well with the Department of Energy's search for a new interim or permanent waste site, Entergy's own documents show anticipated scenarios where the last fuel assembly is not removed until at least 10 years after license termination," stated Shadis.

His testimony pointed to recommendations in federal reports, notably the NRC and the General Accountability Office of the Congress, that point to 500-year storage and the potential for repackaging the waste in 100-year intervals as the current steel storage canisters or the fuel structure itself may deteriorate.

"The Coalition wants dry cask fuel storage because it is by far safer than spent fuel pool storage," stated Clay Turnbull, who is representing the Coalition before the Public Service Board. "We just don't want the state to get blindsided by walking into another open-ended agreement with Entergy. This one has to be done right because it may directly impact future generations."

Turnbull stated the Coalition intends to issue a waste storage position paper shortly.

"We believe that Entergy, the state, advocates and the affected public should come to the table on which all options, including below-ground storage, alternative siting, and corporation funding are available for earnest discussion."

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Vermont Yankee, which was purchased by Entergy in 2002, operated for 42 years until it was shutdown at the end of 2014. Entergy chose the SAFSTOR option to decommission the power plant, which authorizes a 60-year window to finish cleaning up the site. It has been estimated it will cost at least $1 billion to decommission the site. The trust fund contains approximately $650 million.

According to testimony filed by Chris Recchia, the commissioner of Vermont's department of Public Service, the management of spent fuel at the site is expected to cost $368 million.

Entergy is proposing to use $145 million in credit facilities, backed by Entergy Corporation, to pay for construction of the independent spent fuel storage installation pad and transfer of spent nuclear fuel from the pool to dry cask storage. Entergy Vermont Yankee is also proposing to use money from the decommissioning trust fund to pay for ongoing maintenance of the dry casks, to which the state objects. Entergy recently asked for an exemption to allow it to use some of the decommissioning fund for spent fuel handling. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission responded that it was a similar exemption granted to other closed power plants and concluded there was no reason to deny the request. The state of Vermont is contesting the decision and has filed an appeal in federal court.

Recchia noted that Entergy has filed a claim against the Department of Energy to recoup money paid to the DOE for a permanent waste site that was never built. Entergy has received money from the DOE, as have other power plants, for the handling and storage of spent nuclear fuel. Recchia stated in his filing that Entergy should be relying on that money and not asking the NRC for approval to use money out of the trust fund.

Chris Campany, testifying for the Windham Regional Commission, stated the construction of a second IFSI on site would interfere with the plant's decommissioning because of its proposed location.

"First, the location of the 1st ISFSI and proposed 2nd ISFSI will interfere with the physical decommissioning of the plant," noted Campany. "Second, (Entergy) has agreed to commence the decommissioning of the site once the decommissioning trust is sufficient to do so. If decommissioning becomes dependent upon the need to again move the spent fuel and the petitioner is again allowed to use funds from the decommissioning trust to perform this action, it would be reasonable to assume that decommissioning would again be delayed until such time as the decommissioning trust has again been restored to a level of funding that would allow decommissioning to commence. Repeatedly drawing down the decommissioning trust fund to pay what were foreseen, foreseeable and avoidable expenses, and thereby delaying the decommissioning, should not occur."

In its own filings, Entergy has stated the spent fuel pads won't interfere with decommissioning because by the time the trust fund reaches the level necessary to begin the work, the waste will have been removed by the Department of Entergy for storage at a permanent site.

"Entergy VY apparently intends to pay these costs from the Decommissioning Trust Fund and the Site Restoration Fund and then hope for reimbursement from DOE, which is not assured," noted Campany. "Likewise we are concerned that spent fuel located in the center of the site could have profound impacts upon redevelopment after the reactor complex has been decommissioned and restored. Michael Twomey testified that the second ISFSI will facilitate potential reuse of yet given its placement, exactly the opposite may be true."

The Windham Regional Commission asked the Public Service Board to consider "a single consolidated pad far removed from the reactor complex, and if accepted as an alternative, should hold Entergy VY responsible for all costs associated with constructing this pad and moving fuel from the original pad (rather than impose those costs on the Decommissioning Trust Fund)."

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


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