Federal regulators will allow the owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to use money earmarked for dismantling the plant to manage radioactive waste.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted requests from Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. to use some of the $665 million of its decommissioning fund to store used fuel rods that will remain radioactive for thousands of years.
Thursday’s decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will allow Entergy to use about $225 million to manage spent fuel — only after it uses up about $143 million from a line of credit.
The decision also allows Entergy to take money out of the decommissioning fund without asking the NRC for permission. Without the exemption, the company would have had to give 30 days’ notice of its intent to withdraw from the fund.
Neil Sheehan, a spokesperson for the NRC, said the regulators approved the exemption because Entergy is investing the $665 million fund well enough that the company will have enough money to decommission the Vernon plant over a 60-year period. The total cost of decommissioning will likely exceed $1 billion.
“Based on site-specific cost estimate and the cash-flow analysis, use of a portion of the Trust (fund) for irradiated fuel management will not adversely impact ENO’s ability to complete radiological decommissioning within 60 years and terminate the VY license,” the NRC said in a statement.
Marty Cohn, a spokesperson for Entergy, said the company will use about $143 million of its $145 million credit line to build storage casks that will hold spent fuel rods. The roughly $225 million from that the NRC approved to come from the decommissioning fund will help pay for the management and operations to guard the radioactive waste, he said.
There are 2,996 assemblies in a cooling pool and 884 assemblies already placed into 13 steel-reinforced concrete casks. By 2020, Entergy plans to have all the spent fuel stored in dry casks.
“As a company, we have a responsibility to use those dollars to safely decommission Vermont Yankee,” Cohn said. “We’re following the guidelines of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Sheehan said a few power plants across the country have asked for similar exemptions when they entered the decommissioning process. Entergy made its requests to the NRC in January, just weeks after the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon stopped running for good.
“That’s how you seek approval for many actions at a plant, is by exemption,” Sheehan said. “Separately, the company is seeking a license amendment request that involves the same area. The state is challenging both.”
On June 4 and 5, officials in Vermont then sent letters to the NRC to intervene in Entergy’s request to use the decommissioning money — which Vermont leaders say is solely dedicated to taking apart the plant over a 60-year period. The NRC wrote a letter on Tuesday disagreeing with Vermont’s arguments.
“In accordance with the NRC regulations, the staff has a well-established review process to ensure that licensees have sufficient funding in their (decommissioning fund),” the letter said. “The NRC’s review … determined that Entergy provided reasonable assurance that sufficient funding for radiological decommissioning … will be available for the decommissioning process.”
State officials did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, but have consistently opposed Entergy’s plans to use the decommissioning fund for spent fuel removal.
Arnie Gundersen, board member for Fairewinds Energy Education, said his organization opposes the types of exemptions that Entergy is receiving.
“It just reaffirms all my thoughts on what a lapdog the NRC really is,” Gundersen said. “The decommissioning fund was not designed for this kind of spent fuel management. Entergy was supposed to pay for that themselves. They made the profits, and now we, Vermonters, are paying for the cleanup.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a hearing July 7 to see if Entergy will be allowed to amend its license to reflect its right to use decommissioning funds to manage spent fuel rods.