[B]RATTLEBORO — State regulators will consider the opinions of an outspoken nuclear critic when deciding whether to approve Vermont Yankee's plans for storing radioactive spent fuel.
Plant owner Entergy had asked the Public Service Board to throw out the testimony of Raymond Shadis, an adviser to the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution. But the board, in an order dated Thursday, overruled each of Entergy's objections.
At the same time, though, state officials said they were not necessarily agreeing with Shadis' concerns about Yankee's proposed spent fuel storage pad.
“We want to be clear: At this stage, our determination is solely whether (Shadis') testimony is relevant, not whether it is persuasive,” the board wrote.
An Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman said Friday the company had no comment on the Public Service Board's ruling because the case is ongoing. But Shadis fired off a prepared statement in which he compared Entergy's opposition to “the environmental Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”
“Instead of playing the cranky-fussy card, they should try working with us. They might even come to like it,” Shadis said. “Seriously, we all want the same thing — a prompt, protective cleanup and best-practices fuel storage. Our dispute is a matter of how we measure (that), and how we get there.”
Entergy stopped producing power at Vermont Yankee in December 2014, and the company has pledged to move all of the Vernon plant's spent nuclear fuel into sealed dry casks by the end of 2020. Thirteen such casks are on the site now, and the company says it will need 45 more.
There's general agreement that dry cask storage is far safer than keeping spent fuel in a pool inside the plant's reactor building. But there is less consensus about the specifics of Entergy's proposal: While company administrators say they carefully considered placement of a concrete pad to hold the dry casks, some worry that the pad's proximity to Vermont Yankee's reactor building could hinder decommissioning.
The Public Service Board is considering Entergy's plans and has scheduled two full days of technical hearings on the topic later this month.
In the meantime, the board has accepted voluminous written testimony in the case. That includes two rounds of testimony from Shadis, a Maine-based consultant to the New England Coalition.
Shadis had urged a “most scrupulous and searching review” of Entergy's plans. He was critical of the public participation process in the fuel pad case, and he warned there is no certainty about when the federal government will take spent fuel away from the site.
Entergy reacted by asking that the Shadis testimony be “excluded in its entirety,” labeling it “irrelevant, immaterial and beyond the scope of NEC's intervention.”
The Public Service Board did not agree. In its Thursday order, the board rejected Entergy's arguments in regard to three issues Shadis raised:
• Comparisons to Maine Yankee decommissioning.
Shadis had participated in that plant's decommissioning process, and he cited “many examples of how Maine Yankee extended itself to communicate through meaningful public participation.”
“To date,” he said, “I know of no comparable examples at Vermont Yankee.”
Entergy had argued that what happened in Maine had nothing to do with Vermont's statutes and is outside the scope of the New England Coalition's intervention in this case. But the Public Service Board said Shadis' argument is relevant.
“In particular, the testimony could be helpful in assessing whether the environmental impacts of the (spent fuel pad), including aesthetic impacts, are undue,” the board wrote. “Similarly, it could relate to the consistency of the (fuel pad) with the orderly development of the region.”
• Concerns about storage of spent fuel at Vermont Yankee for an indefinite time period.
Entergy argued that the federal government — not the PSB — has jurisdiction over spent nuclear fuel, so Shadis' comments should be pre-empted by federal regulations. But the board said Entergy didn't do enough to prove that Shadis had strayed into federal jurisdiction.
“Rather, Mr. Shadis only points out that the spent fuel might remain on site for longer than currently forecast, suggesting that this consideration should be weighed when the board makes its determination on Entergy VY's petition,” the board wrote.
• Plans for funding construction of the fuel pad.
Entergy said the New England Coalition does not have the right to weigh in on the adequacy of the company's financial plans, and PSB members agreed with the company on that point.
Nevertheless, Shadis apparently can testify on the “implications” of Entergy's finances as they relate to issues that are relevant to this case, such as “site reuse, regional planning, local environment and aesthetics.”
The board is expected to issue a decision on the fuel pad by May. If Entergy receives its requested certificate of public good, the company will start construction of the pad later this year and will begin moving spent fuel into dry casks in 2017 — two years earlier than initially planned.
Clay Turnbull, a trustee and staffer of the New England Coalition, said the nonprofit will continue to raise questions about Entergy's fuel storage plans throughout the process.
“Of course we support moving the fuel to dry casks, but it's got to be done right,” Turnbull said. “These decisions will affect generations to come.”
Don't miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger's weekly email on the energy industry and the environment.