VERNON — The new owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which has just started the demolition phase, has passed its first federal inspection.
And at the same time, it's earned high marks from the state for cooperation.
The nuclear plant, which stopped generating power in December 2014, was sold to NorthStar Nuclear Decommissioning Co. LLC., in early January. NorthStar, a New York City industrial demolition firm, is getting into the nuclear decommissioning business in a big way.
But during its first four months at the Vernon plant, both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation said things are going smoothly.
In fact, Chuck Schwer, director of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation's waste management and prevention division, said NorthStar is a welcome change from Entergy Nuclear, which owned Vermont Yankee for 17 years.
Schwer emphasized that the state is not involved in the radiological issues at Vermont Yankee, but it is involved in other potential contamination issues — PCBs, asbestos, lead, oil leaks, even residue left over from an in-house dry-cleaning business.
He said NorthStar has hired an environmental engineering firm, Haley and Aldrich, to work on the environmental sampling
"We've worked with them over the years and we find them very cooperative," he said.
Schwer said he asked Entergy Nuclear for years for information that it never would share, but that NorthStar has readily supplied in a short four months.
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Region One offices, said a senior NRC inspector has been assigned to the Vermont
Yankee decommissioning. Steve Hammann, a senior health physicist who underwent special training for the decommissioning job, has been at the Vernon reactor a total of three weeks in the past four months.
"He's developing a good base of knowledge and is developing ongoing communication with the staff at the plant," Sheehan said. His expertise is in radiation
safety, but he has received additional training in the area of being a decommissioning inspector.
"We have been very pleased by the response from NorthStar," said Schwer, noting that NorthStar has responded quickly with the information the state can request as part of the sale agreement."They've gotten it to us quickly and it's of good quality. They are very open to our comments and feedback. It was not that way with Entergy," he said.
Sheehan said there are currently six nuclear power plants, including Vermont Yankee, that are undergoing decommissioning. He said 10 plants have already gone through decommissioning, and 14 plants are going into long-term storage, which the NRC calls "SAFSTOR." Vermont Yankee appeared headed for long-term storage until NorthStar proposed buying it.
Schwer said that while it is too soon to have results from the environmental testing, "at least we have an avenue" to get that information.
Sheehan said the NRC inspector has found that the preliminary decommissioning activities at Vermont Yankee "have been conducted safely and in accordance with NRC regulations.
"Decommissioning work at the site has clearly picked up," Sheehan reported. "Among other things we checked on during this inspection was the draindown and decontamination of the spent fuel pool, as well as the removal of the racks that held spent fuel assemblies at the bottom of the pool." He said NorthStar is preparing the plant's refueling floor for the start of the reactor vessel and vessel internals segmentation project, which is estimated to take about a year and a half.
"Although our on-site presence will still depend on activities at the site, it is fair to say we will have an increased presence," Sheehan said, noting that Hammann will likely be in Vernon on a monthly basis in the future.
Contact Susan Smallheer@email@example.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.