Congressional delegation presses state’s case on nuclear rules

vermont Yankee
The spent fuel pool at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Photo courtesy Vermont Yankee
VERNON — Vermont’s members of Congress are asking federal regulators to “give local stakeholders a seat at the table” when nuclear plants are decommissioned.

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, both Democrats, and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders joined a dozen other lawmakers in writing to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as that agency begins developing new regulations for shut-down plants.

As Vermont Yankee transitions toward decommissioning, a frequent complaint has been the lack of participation for host communities and state governments. So that’s an important issue for the legislators, who argue for a “transparent, authentic and inclusive process.”

“The decommissioning of a nuclear power plant has an enormous impact on the state and communities hosting the plant,” the letter says. “It is essential, therefore, that the agency work collaboratively with states, localities and interested parties throughout the decommissioning process.”

The NRC has acknowledged a need to come up with a new set of “clear requirements” for dormant nuclear plants. The agency expects to cover topics such as emergency preparedness, security and decommissioning schedules.

The rule-making process will take years. The NRC late last year kicked off an initial public comment period that ends Friday, and a variety of interested parties — including the state of Vermont — are weighing in.

The congressional letter offers a number of rule-making requests, including:

• Requiring nuclear licensees to include state and local input in their decommissioning plans. The lawmakers also want the NRC to formally approve those plans, which is not required at this point.

• Ensuring that decommissioning funds are spent “strictly for statutorily authorized purposes.” Use of Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning trust fund has led to an ongoing battle between Vermont officials and the NRC.

• Requiring that radioactive spent nuclear fuel be moved from cooling pools to more stable dry cask storage as soon as possible.

• Pushing for plant sites to be “rapidly returned to beneficial use” and for plant licensees to “maintain or obtain the financial resources necessary to do so.” The federally approved SAFSTOR program — which Vermont Yankee is headed into — allows up to 60 years for decommissioning.

• Maintaining “all emergency preparedness and response and security resources” at a plant until spent fuel is sealed in dry cask storage. The NRC is allowing Vermont Yankee to dramatically scale back its emergency operations as of next month, and state officials have said that’s too soon.

The 12 other signers of the letter are Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and nine Democratic representatives from Massachusetts: Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, William Keating, Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, Seth Moulton, Richard Neal and Niki Tsongas.

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