Entergy asks state to throw out dissenting testimony on spent fuel

Entergy's legal team, left, and New England Coalition attorneys appear before the Vermont Supreme Court. Photo by Andrew Stein

Entergy’s legal team (left) and New England Coalition attorneys appear before the Vermont Supreme Court in 2013. File photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

VERNON – The war of words continues over spent nuclear fuel storage at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

In the latest volley, Entergy, the owner of the plant, argued that the state should disregard the concerns of a technical adviser to the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution.

Raymond Shadis, the adviser, urged “a most scrupulous and searching review” of Entergy’s plans to build a second spent fuel pad on its Vernon property.

Entergy’s attorneys counter that Shadis’ testimony is “irrelevant, immaterial and beyond the scope of NEC’s intervention.”

The coalition is “not surprised at all” about Entergy’s move and plans to fight back, according to Clay Turnbull, a trustee and staffer of the nonprofit advocacy organization.

“Essentially, what they are trying to do is exclude the voice of the people,” Turnbull said Monday.

The legal sparring has intensified as Entergy seeks state approval to build a 76-by-93-foot concrete pad that would hold spent nuclear fuel housed in dry casks. Vermont Yankee, which ceased producing power on Dec. 29, already stores 13 dry casks on an existing pad; Entergy will need 58 casks to store all of the plant’s spent fuel.

Much of that fuel remains in a pool inside the plant’s reactor building. And there is general agreement that, for now, dry casks are a much better form of storage for radioactive waste at Vermont Yankee. There is disagreement, however, on the location of the second fuel pad and the safety of Entergy’s plans.

“We want that fuel moved from the (spent fuel) pool into dry casks right along with everyone else. That’s not what’s in dispute,” Turnbull said. “What’s in dispute is where those casks are going to be and how much due diligence is put into that.”

Long-term fuel storage is necessary at Vermont Yankee because the federal government has not made good on its promise to build a national storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. In his testimony filed last month with the Vermont Public Service Board, Shadis – a Maine-based consultant to the New England Coalition – seized on the fact that there is no sure endgame for spent fuel.

“There seems to be a silent or soft-spoken consensus among the federal courts and agencies and the national laboratories that used nuclear fuel will not be leaving plant sites in quantity until at least the 22nd century,” Shadis said.

vermont Yankee fuel pool

The spent fuel pool at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant holds 2,996 spent fuel assemblies, each measuring about 7 inches by 7 inches, that are awaiting a move to dry cask storage. Photo courtesy Vermont Yankee

“High level nuclear waste will not be removed from Vermont Yankee or Vermont in our lifetime,” Shadis said. The uncertainty associated with the financing of the Vermont Yankee decommissioning process, he said, puts a special burden on state officials to thoroughly vet Entergy’s proposal.

Shadis argues that the decommissioning and spent-fuel process at the Maine Yankee nuclear plant – a process in which he participated – was superior to the current Vermont Yankee proceedings. He cited “many examples of how Maine Yankee extended itself to communicate through meaningful public participation. To date, I know of no comparable examples at Vermont Yankee.”

Entergy, in its attempt to have Shadis’ testimony “excluded in its entirety,” first took issue with his Maine Yankee arguments.

“The entirety of his testimony on this subject pertains to other nuclear plants and has no relevance to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station,” the company’s objection says.

Entergy also took issue with his assertion that the public doesn’t have a say in the decommissioning of the plant. Because Vermont has a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, the company argues, Shadis’ testimony is at most a critique of Vermont’s permitting process.

The only matter at hand, Entergy’s attorneys wrote, is whether Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel project meets state regulations – “not how the requirements of those statutes compare to what was done elsewhere.”

Even if Shadis’ testimony had any relevance to Vermont Yankee, it is “outside the scope” of issues that the New England Coalition is allowed to address, Entergy claims.

That’s the crux of Entergy’s other rebuttal to Shadis’ arguments: The company claims he’s overreaching, straying too far into matters that are governed by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission – not the state. The NRC has “exclusive jurisdiction to license the transfer, delivery, receipt, acquisition, possession and use of nuclear materials,” Entergy’s attorneys wrote.

They criticized Shadis for not detailing the “’mitigating actions’ he apparently thinks are necessary” to address the long-term storage of spent fuel at Yankee. And they said Shadis doesn’t explain how his radiological concerns have any place in the state’s permitting process.

“Mr. Shadis’ concerns about the federal government’s timely removal of spent nuclear fuel are more properly directed to Vermont’s congressional delegation,” Entergy’s objection says.

Turnbull produced documents showing that Entergy cited a Maine Yankee court decision in the process of seeking state approval for its first spent fuel pad. “Now, they’re opposing our use of a comparison between VY and Maine Yankee,” he said.

Entergy is “hiding behind preemption,” Turnbull says. In other words, he contends the company is using federal jurisdiction as a shield in order to not have to answer important questions during the state’s permitting process for a spent fuel pad.

“Entergy has not made a plan on what will happen if (the U.S. Department of Energy) doesn’t take the fuel away,” Turnbull said, citing “land-use issues and economic realities” at the Vermont Yankee site.

Mike Faher

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  • Pete Novick

    If you are losing sleep over this issue, here’s a chapter from a monograph published by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service titled, Dry Cask Storage and Comparative Risks.

    https://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/security/nasrptsfp6.pdf

    It’s worth a read.

    My neighbor worked for many years at VY. His home is neat and tidy. There is a new high end European SUV parked out front. He has left for a new job in the industry down south and he and his family are preparing their house for sale: updating the kitchen, sanding and refinishing hardwood floors, installing a new washer and dryer, all in an effort to make their home a bit more attractive than the ever-increasing number of homes for sale here in Windham County. The family is not looking forward to pulling their kids out of school, but he was able to replace the income, and that’s at least a start.

    He and his wife had a household income north of $200K in 2014. That income is no longer being spent in Vermont. That income, along with the high incomes of another now-departed 100 VY employees who used to reside in southern Vermont, supported many jobs – jobs that are disappearing one at a time. Jobs that are not being replaced.

    Here’s a link to the recently released report, Economic Impacts of Vermont Yankee Closure, prepared by the UMass Donahue Institute:

    http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1385923-umdi-economic-impacts-vy-closure-dec2014.html

    Per Table 1 (page 9), the closing of VY results in a reduction of direct and indirect annual economic output from $490 million in 2014, when the reactor was operational and online, to about $5 million in 2021 – a decrease of 99%.

    Personally, I trust the professionals at the NRC to manage the VY transition with competence.

    How many people making cheese, brewing craft ales and staging performance art does it take to replace what we lost economically when VT closed?

    It’s a fair question.

    Cheers

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