State wants Entergy to continue emergency planning after shutdown

Vermont Yankee Emergency Preparedness Zone.

Vermont Yankee Emergency Preparedness Zone.

The state opposes a request by the operators of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to discontinue off-site emergency planning after the facility shuts down, a state official said Wednesday.

Testifying at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on nuclear plant decommissioning in Washington, D.C., Chris Recchia, commissioner of the state Department of Public Service, said the emergency planning efforts should continue until all of the plant’s spent fuel rods are removed from pools and placed in dry cask storage.

Entergy, the plant’s Louisiana-based owner, asked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission last month to allow it to halt emergency planning 16 months after the plant closes in December. The state reached an agreement with Entergy to close Vermont Yankee at the end of this year.

“Within 15.4 months after shutdown, no credible accident at VY will result in radiological releases requiring offsite protective actions,” Entergy states in its request to the Nuclear Energy Commission for an exemption from federal regulations related to the emergency planning zone around nuclear power plants, the Brattleboro Reformer reported in April. “The potential for a release of a large radiological source term to the environment from the high pressures and the temperatures associated with reactor operation will no longer exist.”

Speaking at a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, Recchia said Entergy should continue emergency protection requirements until no fuel is left in the cooling pools.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service. State of Vermont photo

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service. State of Vermont photo

“We have 3,800 fuels rods in a pool designed for 350. We don’t think that it’s safe to eliminate the emergency protection zones until the fuel is, at the minimum, in dry cask,” Recchia told the committee, which includes Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the committee, said the NRC has never denied a request for such an exemption to the emergency plan.

The hearing brought together witnesses from state and municipal government, the NRC, the nuclear power industry and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It came on the heels of legislation introduced by Sanders, Boxer and Edward Markey, D-Mass., calling on the NRC to give states a greater role in the decommissioning process.

The legislation would require plant operators to consult with states within 50 miles of a plant before submitting a decommissioning plan to the NRC, according to a news release from Sanders’ office. The bill would require the NRC to solicit input from the public, and it would make the NRC approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan – something the regulatory agency does not do now.

Recchia, while praising Vermont’s agreement with Entergy, said states would benefit “from a seat at the table” in the decommissioning process and asked that the NRC be required to sign off on decommissioning plans submitted by plant operators. Recchia also criticized the NRC’s process of accepting public and stakeholder comments without being required to respond to any concerns that are raised, and that Vermont’s ability to negotiate with Entergy over decommissioning was limited by NRC rules.

“I know of no other regulatory structure in which some of that dialogue is not analyzed and responded to,” Recchia said.

“We were hamstrung in the ability to negotiate (with Entergy) … there were things we weren’t able to agree on, things NRC has allowed,” he said. “Vermont was not well-served by the NRC’s past decisions and current approach. We negotiated with our hands tied behind our backs.”

Recchia also urged the Department of Energy more quickly reimburse plant operators for the money they spend securing spent fuel. Without a storage site for spent fuel, the federal government has assumed ultimate responsibility for nuclear waste.

The hearing also addressed the risk of catastrophic fire in spent fuel pools that would release radiation and whether it makes sense to expedite the transfer of fuel rods to dry cask. Spent fuel rods can be held in sometimes crowded cooling pools for 50 years or more, Boxer said.

Boxer told Michael Weber, the NRC’s deputy executive director for operations, materials, waste, research, state, tribal and compliance programs, she was concerned by the amount of spent fuel held at the San Onofre nuclear generating station in California, which is also in the process of decommissioning. Boxer said 8 million people live within 50 miles of the Southern California plant. She said there were 2,600 rods being stored in space designed for 1,600.

“Your own chairman wrote that if there’s an accident (at a spent fuel pool) it could be worse than Chernobyl,” she said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said the NRC is doing a good job regulating the industry and the rush to close nuclear power plants could damage the nation’s energy supply and economy.

“The NRC has a proven record of success in regulating these matters,” said Sessions, a member of the committee. “We endanger a weak economy by driving up the cost of energy by closing up plants that could be productive for a decade or more.”

Comments

  1. Bob Zeliff :

    3800 live fuel rods in a open pool designed for 350, and entergy want’s to stop emergency planning!!

    Yep here comes “cold store dangers” for the next 60 years!

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      That has to be a typo. It must be designed for 3500. That would be like putting 380 psi in a tire designed for 35 psi. Please check that factoid digger.

      • John Greenberg :

        There is no typo, although I believe the numbers are slightly off in both directions.

        When Vermont Yankee was designed and built, the theory was that fuel would only remain in the spent fuel pool long enough to cool down, and would then be transferred off site for either reprocessing or disposal.

        For different reasons, neither of these options has ever materialized, so all of the “spent” fuel is stored on site. Until 2007, it was all in the spent fuel pool, which was originally designed to hold 600 (not 350) fuel assemblies. When Entergy uprated the plant, it hastened the expiration of the spent fuel pool’s capacity, so it got permission to offload some of the fuel into dry casks stored on site. The operating license allows them to store 3300-3400 fuel assemblies in the pool, that is, between 5 and 6 times the original design load.

        The pool was re-racked several times to accommodate the larger number of fuel assemblies, and the fuel pool cooling system was also revamped and redesigned for the same reason.

        The fuel pool currently contains many times the amount of radiation released at either Fukushima or Chernobyl and far more radiation than is in the reactor itself during operations. Hence, a fuel pool accident could have far greater consequences than a “mere” reactor accident.

        • Paul Lorenzini :

          please make the argument based on accurate numbers.

          • Paul Lorenzini :

            were the “different reasons”, in part due to protests against anything nuclear?

          • John Greenberg :

            Paul:
            If you have some reason to cast doubt on the figures I provided, please state it.

  2. Wayne Andrews :

    Yep, here comes the liberals ranting about the dangers when in operation but the same dangers are going to be present after shutting down.
    Might just as well left the plant running.
    Opps, now the liberals need to send 1/2 of their protest squad to a new arena while still keeping there other 1/2 at VY.

    • Richard Ratico :

      The same danger is present operating or closed, namely the potential for the release of radiation.
      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kitty-litter-behind-nuclear-dump-radiation-leak-in-new-mexico/

      Conservatives should be embracing the fact that it was their beloved market forces which are closing it.

      John Mclaughry and his “Ethan Allen Institute” would do well site their “free market solutions for Vermont” “think tank” there.

  3. Hattie Nestel :

    Chris Rechia has done an excellent job in the U.S. Senate Committee hearings! The fuel rods are a grave danger to most of New England , and they must not sit there merely because Entergy wants to stuff their pockets rather then dry cask storage to protect New Englanders.
    Also, of course, we thank senators Sanders, Boxer and Markey for trying to hold the NRC accountable. No easy task!
    Hattie Nestel

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      Hattie, are you a member of 350.org? I am joining soon!

  4. Paul Lorenzini :

    The war of electrons is a lot better then real war, right?

    here and now.

    al gore be damned, in my mind, yet YOUR hero?

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      blood and Gore, population control expertise mixed with capitalism.

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