VERNON — Spent radioactive fuel will be removed from the reactors at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant by 2020, the plant’s corporate owner told a citizen oversight panel Thursday.
But Louisiana-based Entergy said it does not know when it will begin tearing down Vermont Yankee after it stops producing power in December. The plant has already begun to slow power production and plans to cut 40 percent of its workforce by January.
Mike Twomey, vice president of external affairs for Entergy, said the company will release a report outlining the preliminary cost of decommissioning by October. The company will begin the process only when it has enough money in a special trust fund to complete the operation.
“We don’t know when it will reach that level, because it all depends on the performance of the nuclear decommissioning trust fund,” Twomey said.
The fund is managed by a trustee and has historically grown at a rate of about 6.5 percent, he said. The company said the fund currently has about $650 million. Estimates for decommissioning the 600-megawatt nuclear power plant range from $800 million to $1 billion.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel met for the first time on Thursday in Brattleboro to begin overseeing the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
Residents from Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire raised concerns about the plant’s closure on the regional economy, the impact on the adjacent Connecticut River, and the condition of the site after the plant is deconstructed.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires a certain radiation exposure level after a plant is decommissioned. Entergy say the company’s pact with Vermont — which was reached last December — does not require stricter standards than the NRC’s, but leaves open the possibility that such standards could be negotiated.
Under the memorandum of understanding, the state can negotiate site restoration standards based on environmental clean up efforts at similar nuclear power plants across the country.
“We’re willing to do what’s in the MOU. That’s what we agreed to,” Twomey said.
The spent nuclear fuel from Vermont Yankee will remain on-site indefinitely in dry cask storage containers because there is currently no repository to store spent nuclear fuel in the United States.
“They will be there until the U.S. Department of Energy fulfills it obligations … to come pick up that fuel,” Twomey told the panel. Entergy is seeking money from the DOE to move spent fuel from the facility into dry casks.
Entergy plans to remove all fuel from the reactor core into a spent fuel cooling pool by 2015. This fuel will then be placed into a total of 58 dry casks by 2020, the company says. The casks are reinforced with steel, encased in cement and designed to contain radiation.
But before the company can remove all the spent fuel from the pool, it must first receive approval from state regulators to build a new spent fuel storage pad.
Entergy applied for an application to build the storage pad this year. But the application is currently on hold because Entergy had to analyze the moisture content of the soil. When completing its evaluation, Twomey said the company found “some anomalous results” that prompted the company to further study a location for the pad.
The casks will be stored on an open-top pad with a “security barrier” around the perimeter. The pad cannot be covered because the casks are cooled with natural air ventilation, an Entergy spokesman said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel did not pose a significant environmental risk because the containers can withstand natural disasters and a terrorist attack is unlikely.
One resident asked why the company will not use the cooling towers to cool the reactor. Entergy uses river water to cool the nuclear reactor, but the Connecticut River Watershed Council warns this could impact fish populations in the Connecticut River.
Entergy says it is working with the Agency of Natural Resources on the renewal of its thermal discharge permit for after the plant shuts down. It says after shutdown, the cooling of the plant will not affect river water temperatures.
On Dec. 23, 2013, the state reached an agreement with Entergy related to the closure of the power plant, including financial payments to the state and a schedule for site assessment work used to determine the cost and possible timeline for deconstructing the plant.
Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia, who was unanimously elected as chair of the panel on Thursday, said Entergy has met all its commitments under the agreement so far. But he said there are still issues to be worked out, including the standards for restoring the site.
“There may be cases where we are not able to be in agreement. And that will come before you,” Recchia told the panel.
Entergy says it has donated $10 million of its $25 million commitment to the site restoration trust fund; $5.2 million to the Clean Energy Development Fund; $2 million of its $10 million commitment to the an Economic Development Fund for Windham County; and has filed to build a storage pad for spent nuclear fuel. The company says it made $175,000 in charitable donations in 2014.
Entergy says the company currently employs 550 people at Vermont Yankee, but will reduce that number to 316 by January. By 2016, there will be 127 employees and 55 by 2020 when the spent nuclear fuel is removed from the plant, the company says.
The 19-member oversight panel— which was established by state law — includes workers at the plant, Entergy representatives, and elected officials from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The panel is designed to advise the governor, lawmakers, state agencies and the public about issues related to the decommissioning of the power plant.
Recchia said the state will be developing a website to post documents, agendas, and other discussion materials relevant to the decommissioning. The meetings are recorded by Brattleboro Cable Access Television and the recorded meetings will be distributed to all other Vermont public access stations, according to the Department of Public Service.