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.

Mike Faher

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  • Tom Clegg

    So let me get this straight. They want the spent fuel out of the pool and into dry cask storage as soon as possible yet they are giving Entergy a hard time about a second concert pad. Which side of the mouths will they be speaking out of tomorrow?

    • Glenn Thompson

      This bunch is known to be anti-nuclear. Thus they are also the same bunch who opposes any method of dealing with the waste and the decommissioning issues. It should come as no surprise at all these people would pull these kind of tactics and antics.

      From the article!

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

      That one sentence alone proves my point!

  • Keith Dewey

    Assuming truly safe concrete dry cask unit durability might last, say, 200 years and no real-world safe permanent storage solution is presently in sight, I’m wondering… is Entergy’s Decommissioning Fund going to be large enough to cover the spent fuel rod babysitting costs for the remaining +/-239,800 safe storage years? Try doing the math on that one. “Too cheap to meter”? Oops… We all know who is going to end up holding that hot potato. It is bizarre that Entergy utters a sound.

    • James Hopf

      The nuclear waste problem has already been technically solved. Not only are repositories moving forward elsewhere (Scandinavia), but NRC has ruled that Yucca mountain meets all the technical requirements, those requirements being the most impeccable requirements ever applied to any waste stream. It has always been a purely political problem.

      Despite the political difficulties, the suggestion that we still will not have selected a site in 200 years is absurd. (And the casks could safely store the fuel that long, in any event. The worst case scenario being that we would have to reload them into new casks.)

      The costs of babysitting dry storage casks are extremely low. Ever heard of the concept of interest? Given the low ongoing costs, all that is needed is to set a fairly modest lump of money aside, and the annual interest (shall we assume only ~2%?) will be enough to pay for the costs of monitoring, in perpetuity.

      • John Greenberg

        James Hopf:

        “but NRC has ruled that Yucca mountain meets all the technical requirements.”

        I don’t believe your statement is quite right.

        The NRC STAFF did a 5-volume study, which concludes, as you say, that the Yucca Mtn. project meets the technical requirements, but I don’t believe there has been any ruling to that effect by the Commission itself.

        The Commission often agrees with staff presentations, studies, etc., but not always, and legally, its rulings, not the staff’s reports, are needed for a project to move forward.

        I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that for the NRC to rule in this instance, the DOE would have to come forward with an actual proposal for a Yucca Mountain site (it’s been withdrawn). Then a process would ensue with states and intervenors possibly presenting evidence against that endorsed by the NRC staff. Only at the end of this process would the NRC actually rule.

        Please correct me if I’ve missed something. I haven ‘t been following this issue very carefully.

    • Leonard Suschena

      Seriously Keith, what are the solutions to disposal of spent nuclear fuel. You blaming the utilities, but who’s fault is it? What does the law say, the government took responsibility for waste disposal back in the 80’s, so why isn’t it resolved? The utilities have given the feds $30 billion to handle it, but they haven’t. So, you ask who is going to pay the babysitting costs, how about the feds using the $15 billion that’s in the waste disposal fund.

    • Tom Clegg

      Keith I don’t know where you get your facts from (or lack of facts) Nagasaki and Hiroshima both had uncontained nuclear reactions and now 71 years later they are both thriving communities. Chernobyl had an nuclear accident and today the wildlife in the area is thriving. So Keith where did you get 239,800 years from? Keith what would be your level of dangerous radiation. Please tell me in rem or milli rem what you consider dangerous? Also check your facts before you post them. To cheap to meter was never a phrase about nuclear power. Lewis L. Strauss said it and he was talking about how much electricity would cost in the future.

  • James Hopf

    “The decommissioning of a nuclear power plant has an enormous impact on the state and communities hosting the plant…”

    How exactly? Other than providing (or at least maintaining) some local jobs?

    Yeah, we need to give the (rabidly anti-nuclear, political) state of Vermont more “input” into all of these issues, because we know we can count on them to act in good faith….

    No thanks, they should stick to their guns on the principle of NRC having sole authority to make judgments on nuclear safety issues. Vermont has shown that it is clearly incapable of making objective judgments in this matter.

  • Leonard Suschena

    So, these Senators want the NRC to include the States. Guess they don’t realize that the NRC follows the laws enacted by the congress, so if they want more local involvement, maybe they should consider revising the laws the NRC follows. Isn’t it their jobs? Instead they want to bypass the congress and have the NRC work outside the laws.

  • Randy Jorgensen

    “VERNON — Vermont’s members of Congress are asking federal regulators to “give local stakeholders a seat at the table” when nuclear plants are decommissioned.”

    Funny, Montpelier doesn’t seem to think the towns deserve a seat at the table when it comes to RE development.

    Speak about double standards.

    • John Greenberg

      Randy:

      There’s no double standard in what is being requested. NRC alone has the authority to regulate nuclear safety, just as the PSB alone has the authority to grant a CPG for energy development. The Congressional delegation is not seeking to change NRC’s authority; rather they want the NRC to use its authority somewhat differently than it has been.

      In the cases both of the NRC and the PSB, proceedings are quasi-judicial. As in court proceedings, parties present their opinions and their evidence to the regulators, who then rule on the admissibility of evidence, etc. Ultimately, the regulators also determine the outcome.

      In both cases, parties – states (or towns) in the case of the NRC or towns in the case of the PSB as well as private parties may ask the regulators for permission to intervene in the proceedings. At the NRC, it’s my understanding that States are granted intervention by right, simply by asking, which is not the case of towns at the Board as far as I know. However, I find it hard to believe that the PSB would decline a town’s request for intervention if submitted according to the rules.

      In both cases again, it’s up to the State or the town to PAY for its intervention and lawyers don’t come cheap. Ditto experts for expert testimony, if needed.

      In short, my understanding is that the two processes are actually very similar and that actually the standards involved are as well.

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