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Gov. Peter Shumlin asked President Barack Obama to give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the authority to require Entergy Corp. to fully decommission Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant instead of allowing the company to store all of the radioactive waste from the facility on the site. Shumlin told reporters on Wednesday that he made his case to the president during the National Governors Association meeting last weekend. Obama supports a new generation of nuclear power plants.
“I said you know in order to sell new nuclear to America you’re going to have to deal with old nuclear better,” Shumlin said. “The fact that we’re sitting here with … an aging nuclear power plant. We’re going to have high-level nuclear waste on the banks of the Connecticut River for as long as the eye can see. The NRC feels that it’s up to Entergy Louisiana … to decide to leave the carcass of the plant in place for 60 years because they’ve been unwilling to fill up their decommissioning funds to keep their promises to take the waste away whenever they shut down. We need some help here Mr. President.”
It wasn’t clear from Shumlin’s remarks whether help from Obama will be forthcoming. Vermont’s congressional delegation, however, on Monday pressed the chair of the NRC, Gregory Jaczko, to require Entergy to decommission the plant.
Entergy prefers SAFSTOR, a scenario in which the fuel would be removed from the reactor and stored on site. Systems would be disconnected and drained, and the plant would then be monitored as the radioactivity of the plant decays. (Editor's note: this description was corrected, and the following paragraph was added on March 4.)
Shumlin opposes SAFSTOR for Vermont Yankee. He wants Entergy to decommission the plant once it is closed. This process would entail removing the "carcass" of the plant and shipping it to a landfill, now under development, in Andrews County, Texas.
In December, the NRC ruled that radioactive nuclear waste could be stored for 60 years on nuclear power plant sites. The previous limit was 30 years, according to the Associated Press.
Last month, three New England states, including Vermont, sued the NRC claiming the agency “violated federal laws requiring a site-by-site review of health, safety and environmental hazards,” the Associated Press reported.
Two other New England nuclear power plants with single atomic reactors -- Maine Yankee and the Connecticut Yankee -- were decommissioned at the time the facilities were shut down.
Barring a change of heart in the Vermont Legislature, Vermont Yankee is slated to close in March of 2012. The Democratic leadership has said it will not reverse the Vermont Senate's decision made last year to deny Entergy permission to pursue a 20-year license renewal for the 39-year-old plant.
In a letter to Jaczko, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch said SAFSTOR “would let Entergy off the hook” for cleanup and waste disposal for decades. Sanders is a member of the Senate panel that maintains oversight of the NRC.
“While Entergy may prefer leaving the plant to sit like an abandoned factory because it has not saved the necessary funds to fully decommission the plant, this is not the safest option for Vermonters,” Leahy, Sanders and Welch wrote.
Shumlin called decommissioning “a huge jobs issue for us.” The governor said decommissioning the plant would fuel $1 billion into the Windham County economy for the “next 10 years.”
John Dillon, a reporter for Vermont Public Radio, asked Shumlin how he could convince Obama and the NRC not to allow “the carcass,” (Shumlin’s descriptive) to stay there for 60 years “when it’s part of the agreement Vermont signed?”
Shumlin said the state has a right to question the company’s authority to use of SAFSTOR because Entergy never mentioned it as an option during the negotiations at the time it purchased the plant in 2002. He was president of the Senate when the deal was struck.
“I remember there were a few words that slipped in there in the thousands of papers that were exchanged,” Shumlin said. “SAFSTOR was never uttered out of anyone’s mouth during that transition. It wasn’t. We were all listening. We were told we were getting a great new owner, one that could be trusted. We were told there was going to be so much money in decommissioning that they almost went to court, the old owners and the new, over who was going to divide up all the largesse after they decommissioned on time.”
Shumlin said Entergy and the state should have been more transparent and let the public know about the reference to SAFSTOR in the documentation that accompanied the sale of the plant. “I think that’s bad government, if that’s what they were trying to do,” he said.
Several reporters noted that in 2002, Christine Salembier, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service at the time, signed a memorandum of understanding that includes pre-approval for the use of SAFSTOR or other forms of delayed decommissioning.
When pressed by reporters again, Shumlin challenged them to go back through press reports from the period to find any mention of SAFSTOR.
Terri Hallenbeck, of the Burlington Free Press asked Shumlin why the public discussion mattered more than the documents that show the state agreed to allow SAFSTOR on the Vermont Yankee site.
Shumlin replied: “Are you, uh, are you working for Entergy today? You want the carcass of the plant down there for 60 years to rot while Entergy Louisiana raises dividends for its stockholders?”
The MOU from 2002 states: "At the time of the site specific study referred to in Section 6, ENVY will demonstrate that funding will be sufficient to accomplish decommissioning, including site restoration and spent fuel management committed to in this docket. It is agreed such demonstration may include the implementation of SAFSTOR or other forms of delayed decommissioning. Entergy agrees that it will perform site restoration as described in Section 3 of this MOU." The agreement was signed by Salembier, Green Mountain Power, Central Vermont Public Service and Entergy.
For an overview of the MOU between Entergy and the state, read Vermont Law School Professor Michael Dworkin's 2008 slide show report.
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