Anti-nuke group seeks to reopen Vermont Yankee permit case

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. Photo courtesy Vermont Business Magazine

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. Photo courtesy Vermont Business Magazine

After years of litigation, environmental groups and nuclear safety advocates were relieved when Entergy accepted a ruling by state regulators to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant by the end of the year.

“This is the death sentence for this plant,” Raymond Shadis, a nuclear safety advocate who has long opposed the plant’s operation, said at the time.

Thursday, Shadis announced an attempt to put more nails in the coffin.

The New England Coalition filed a motion with the Public Service Board to amend the Entergy’s certificate of public good this week to include additional concerns raised by the public – a move the company could use as grounds to back out of its decommissioning agreement.

“We’re not trying to undo the deal; we are not asking the board to overturn this ruling,” Shadis, a representative for the coalition, said. “But we are asking the board to amend its ruling to make it a stronger ruling – one that is more just and one that is more protective of Vermont’s environment.”

The Shumlin administration reached an agreement with the company to make payments to the state, settle all federal litigation and tear down the plant sooner than required by federal regulators. In exchange, Vermont would support Entergy’s petition for a license to operate until the end of the year. The company was granted the license last month and the plant is to cease operations by Dec. 31.

The Vermont Department of Public Service opposed the coalition’s motion to reopen the case. In a filing with the board Friday, the department said the coalition’s filing is unclear, unpersuasive and untimely.

Entergy has said it would reject the memorandum of understanding if state regulators placed additional conditions on its license renewal, which in legal terms is called a “material change.”

“We oppose NEC’s motion,” an Entergy spokesperson said Friday. “We would have to review a board decision before making any determination regarding whether a material change to the MOU had been ordered.”

The coalition is asking Entergy to pay into a restitution fund for any possible impacts on the Connecticut River and to set up an advisory panel to watch over the decommissioning process – issues Shadis said have been raised throughout the Public Service Board’s hearing process.

The board inserted the MOU as a condition on the company’s permit. After receiving testimony to place further conditions on the CPG – including requests to set up a public review process for decommissioning, a larger site restoration fund and tighter thermal discharge requirements on the plant’s cooling towers – the board left the MOU untouched.

“They basically said, ‘Hey, you give the state several millions of dollars and we’ll throw the legal process out the window,’” Shadis said.

Shadis hopes to restore the board’s authority to issue conditions beyond agreements made outside of the hearing process. Otherwise, he said, what’s the point of having a hearing.

“Why would anyone ever hire an attorney to try to get their issues heard before the Vermont Public Service Board if a deal can be made behind close doors that they’re not a party to and can’t get thrown out?” he said.

Changing the MOU could come at a price, however. At risk is Entergy’s commitment under the MOU to pay $10 million into regional economic development; up to $50 million to restore the site to a greenfield; $5.2 million for renewable energy projects; settling all legal fees; and a commitment to begin the decommissioning process sooner than required under federal regulations.

Those financial agreements could be erased if the company opposes additional conditions – a real threat from a company that has successfully challenged the state in court when Vermont lawmakers attempted to shut the plant down in 2012 before its federal license expired.

Patricia Moulton, executive director for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., plans to use the economic development money to accelerate a stimulus plan in Windham County.

“The Entergy funding certainly makes life easier,” she said, although the plan would still go forward without the money. “It’s not a live or die situation.”

Wage stagnation, little or no job growth, and anemic population growth, she said, are among the reasons the regional group has been working with others to come up with a plan to stimulate the economy – especially as the plant, which employs more than 200 Vermont employees and more than 600 total, shuts down at the end of the year.

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will decide how to best spend the Entergy money.

Moulton, who will soon become ACCD secretary, has already pitched a plan to lawmakers that her organization helped create. The agency would then approve state and private projects if they aligned with the plan.

Also on Friday, Entergy reported it had $612 million in its decommissioning trust fund as of Dec. 31. The company estimates the full cost of decommissioning to be $623 million, according to a March filing with the NRC. As part of its agreement with the state, Entergy will provide a detailed cost estimate of decommissioning by the end of the year.

John Herrick

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