State to bill Vermont Yankee for emergency planning

Vermont Yankee

Vermont Yankee’s emergency planning zone touched 18 towns in three states until federal regulators allowed it to expire in April, along with Entergy’s mandated funding for emergency preparedness. Photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger

BRATTLEBORO — State officials say they’ve found a way to force Entergy to continue to pay for Vermont Yankee’s 10-mile emergency zone.

In a surprise announcement Thursday night, Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said the state has new statutory authority to “bill back” Entergy for emergency planning activities in towns around the Vernon nuclear plant.

Recchia expects the state also will be billing the plant’s owner for other Vermont Yankee-related work such as groundwater testing and nonradiological waste monitoring. All told, he said, the bills may come to $900,000 annually.

Federal regulators allowed Vermont Yankee’s 10-mile emergency zone to disappear in April, and Entergy’s mandatory financial support for related state programs is set to end June 30. So the state’s maneuver amounts to an end run around federal decisions, though state officials see it as a defense of public health and safety.

Chris Recchia

Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“The state of Vermont has an obligation to you folks, and we intend to meet it,” Recchia told the audience at Thursday’s meeting of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel in Brattleboro. “So we will meet it, and we will be able to bill Entergy for that.”

It’s possible, though, that the state’s attempt to collect from Entergy will end up draining money from Vermont Yankee’s all-important decommissioning trust fund — setting the stage for further battles on that front.

“If the state bills back, we’ll look at the way in which we will pay that bill,” Vermont Yankee spokesman Marty Cohn said. “And that may include the nuclear decommissioning trust.”

Entergy stopped power production at Vermont Yankee in December 2014 and has sought federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for several licensing changes for the Vernon plant.

Among them was elimination of the off-site emergency planning zone, which had touched 18 towns in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Late last year, the NRC agreed that the 10-mile zone would no longer be needed as of mid-April.

Federal officials cited the decreased risk of an accident at a permanently defueled reactor. Vermont officials had opposed the change, in part because most of Vermont Yankee’s radioactive spent nuclear fuel remains in a cooling pool and won’t be transferred to more stable dry cask storage until the end of 2020.

The end of the emergency planning zone has big financial implications. Each town and state in the zone has been getting annual funding from Entergy, and that obligation stops at the end of the current fiscal year.

In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Gov. Peter Shumlin had zeroed out the state’s Radiological Emergency Response Program. That’s a $1.6 million line item in the state’s current spending plan, and it’s entirely funded by Entergy.

Shortly after Shumlin unveiled those cuts in January, officials also said they weren’t sure how they would continue to pay for the state’s testing of groundwater samples from Vermont Yankee. That’s another Entergy-funded venture.

The state’s answer to those pending cuts came in the final week of the 2016 legislative session, when new language relating to “monitoring the post-closure activities of any nuclear generating plant within the state” was inserted into H.875, the fiscal 2017 budget bill.

Recchia said his department already had authority to bill Entergy for certain activities including legal and permit work. The new legislative language clarifies that the Department of Health and the Agency of Natural Resources each has the same authority; it also creates bill-back authority for the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Recchia said.

Each of those agencies has a role in Yankee-related activities. Emergency Management operates the Radiological Emergency Response Program; the Department of Health conducts groundwater and environmental monitoring; and Natural Resources has authority over nonradiological waste at the plant.

“The various departments will structure their budgets … and then they will be able to bill back the time and money that they spend related to overseeing the nuclear power plant or the emergency planning zone or decommissioning,” Recchia said.

State officials had been talking with Entergy about the company voluntarily providing ongoing emergency funding. But “we were unable to find a path that worked for both Entergy and us, so that’s why the legislation was needed,” Recchia said.

He defended the 11th-hour legislative maneuver, saying it is “not unusual for legislators to amend a bill to add or subtract certain things at the end — happens all the time.”

Irwin

Bill Irwin is the Vermont Department of Health’s radiological and toxicological sciences chief. File photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger

While the new “bill back” authority has been approved by the Legislature, the affected state agencies still need to figure out how to implement it. Bill Irwin, the Health Department’s radiological and toxicological sciences chief, said he’s not yet sure what the state’s ongoing Vermont Yankee groundwater testing program will look like.

“We for the most part have to start from scratch to think about what is in the state’s interest, and then see how that meshes with what Entergy and Vermont Yankee staff already do, and fill in any gaps,” Irwin said.

Also examining the state’s options is Erica Bornemann, chief of staff for the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. She said the state’s revised Vermont Yankee emergency plan is still in the works and will be finalized in the coming weeks.

Officials said they expect to implement a plan that is less robust than the current one. So some details — including how emergency zone towns might benefit from continued funding — have not been determined.

“This is the first time we have had any experience with bill-back authority as established in the statute,” Bornemann said.

However the plan turns out, Bornemann said she’s happy there will be accommodations for enhanced emergency preparedness in the area surrounding Vermont Yankee. “The risk associated with a facility like this is more complex than what we would normally be faced with in any other town,” she said. “So really, the planning efforts, the training involved for personnel, need to reflect that.”

Entergy administrators surely will have much to say about the state’s Vermont Yankee emergency plans, but they appeared taken aback by Recchia’s announcement Thursday night.

Joe Lynch, Vermont Yankee’s government affairs manager, indicated a willingness to work with the state. “I think working collaboratively on a plan for both emergency planning and groundwater monitoring is going to be a success,” Lynch said.

“I’m hoping that’s the methodology, rather than (the state) doing it independently, because that doesn’t serve anybody,” he added.

Mike Faher

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  • Thanks for keeping us informed about ongoing safety issues at VY. It would be interesting to know what the risks are now that the plant is not operating and with has less on-site security. How stable is the spent fuel? Would it be a target for terrorists?

    • Well, just consider this from the Christian Science Monitor,way back in May 25, 2011:

      “The venerable Vermont Yankee reactor, which is involved in a battle to win a new re-licensing that would let it operate another 20 years, has a design similar to the Fukushima plant. It holds seven percent more total radioactivity than the four Daiichi reactors combined – and nearly three times the amount of spent fuel that was stored in at Fukushima’s Unit 4 reactor, which caught fire.”

      The over-crowding in Yankee’s spent fuel pool has only worsened since then.

      • Sorry, I quoted the CSM strictly to illustrate the volume of spent fuel still in the fuel pool at VY. The point is that overcrowding in the fuel pool is a known fire risk.

        If I were writing on behalf of Fairewinds, I would have disclosed that fact. I would not, in any case, because I am not qualified to do so.

        I was just sharing a news report that I found for what light it might shed on Mr. Woodbury’s question.

        • As of March 2011, there were 3,299 spent fuel assemblies in the VY spent fuel pool. I don’t know what the original capacity of the spent fuel pool was, but I do know that it was re-racked around 2008 so that more fuel could be crowded into the pool.

          Again: I am no expert, just a concerned citizen.

          If you are interested in more technical details you might want to read this from the Institute for Policy Studies. It explains in fairly great detail the risk of spent fuel pool fires and vulnerability to terrorist attack..

          http://www.ratical.org/radiation/NuclearExtinction/SpentNuclearFuelPoolsInUS.pdf

          • Willem Post

            Sue,

            Your wording “so that more fuel could be CROWDED into the pool”, is aimed at scare-mongering.

            You just admit you are no expert, and yet you talk about overcrowding.

            The NRC has RULES regarding storing spent fuel in pools.

            THE NRC has a representative at the site.

            You think he just stands around watching rules being violated?

            My experience dealing with such people is not only are they very knowledgeable, but also very conscientious.

            Please find another soapbox.

          • I am afraid that we differ on the trust issue. You are certainly welcome to your own opinion, but the NRC has a long history of favoritism toward the industry, which tends to discount opinions which are unfavorable to the industry.

            Sometimes the best forum for those opinions are “soapboxes” such as comment opportunities on Vermont Digger.

            I’m sorry if this makes you uncomfortable.

          • Glenn Thompson

            Sue Prent,

            “I am afraid that we differ on the trust issue.”

            Do you apply the same logic to all Federal Government agencies?

          • Willem Post

            John,

            Your comment is outstanding. Thank you for making it.

            I agree, risk analysis is tricky business. The more above board it is, the less opportunities for scare-mongering.

          • Thank you for the detailed technical information and perspective on the process. I have already apologized for my error in including the entire CSM quote with the error about Fukushima. It was never intended as more than a direction to evidence that concern has been expressed in the general media, not just by persons questioning nuclear energy, about the safety of crowded fuel pools. if I had taken more time to search, I am sure I could have come up with a hundred better choices without that glaring error. I was focussed on the date.

            It is quite apparent that this thread has descended into personal attacks so I am grateful that you refocused everyone on the salient information.

            In any case, I am not easily intimidated. 😉

          • And there is where you made your mistake. I am an essayist, not a technical expert. My errors are my own; this one, a product of a hastily pasted comment from my ‘scrapbook’ that I hadn’t take the time to read to the end before appending it to my comment. Sloppy? Yes, but my own sloppiness on my own time, having nothing to do with Fairewinds.

            I am sorry that you have such a low opinion of the work that Fairewinds does, but I have found them to be (unlike myself, personally) a very reliable source on the topic.

            I was writing my own opinion on the topic of nuclear hazard for many years before I joined Fairewinds. No doubt, since you know so much about me, you are aware that I am, first of all, a longstanding admin and writer on Green Mountain Daily, and have been a land-use activist since long before that.

            I am quite accustomed to drawing fire, all by myself.

            Apparently you are not given to forgiveness, though; as I quickly acknowledged and apologized for the factual error when it was pointed out to me. I cannot promise never to make errors, but I try to always own up to them as soon as they are pointed out to me.

            The overarching fact that spent fuel assemblies stored in close proximity represent an increased fire hazard, in the event of loss of cooling, over fuel assemblies stored less densely is, I believe, generally accepted as true.

            I have family in the immediate area of Vermont Yankee, so I certainly have a reason for my concerns, whether you share them or not.

          • Willem Post

            Scott,

            V-Y likely had a resident inspector while it was operating, i.e., 40 years.

            During that time fuel bundles were stored, and overseen by that inspector.

          • David Andrews

            Check your ‘facts’. You claim to know the spent fuel pool was re-racked around 2008. You are quite incorrect.

      • Okay, you want to play that game? Tell me exactly what false information and misinformation was disseminated about the Smith Homestead. I’d really like to know.

        Was it perhaps that demolishing the house rather than saving it was going to “create jobs” as the developer claimed?

        Was it that there was no conflict of interest represented in the first cousin of the developers chairing the DRB hearings and waiving a number of requirements that later had to be imposed in environmental court by the judge?

        Perhaps you know where we can see architectural elements saved from the house and offered to interested locals. I never saw anything offered in the paper and would be curious to know to whom those items were offered. I did see a number of pieces I told had been salvaged from the house selling in Burlington before the court challenge had even ended.

        By the way, the ‘urgent’ need to demolish that historic register house and build a huge cheap medical office building, with parking for 35 vehicles, on the site seems to have disappeared. A year later, there is only one occupant of the building, a chartered accountant who, I am told is a cousin the developer. The vast parking lot is empty.

  • Everytime the states bills electric supplier the electric bill gets higher
    I keep hearing people saying let the business pay, well believe me they just pass the costs down in our electric bills

    • John Greenberg

      Harriet E. Cady:

      VY is owned by Entergy, which no longer sells electricity in Vermont, and it doesn’t have any customers in Vermont. There is no way for them to “just pass the costs down in our electric bills.”

    • Ralph Colin

      Even Donald Trump could take lessons from the Vermont state government, its governor and its legislature in how to bully its constituents, be they individuals or commercial institutions. First the state government runs Yankee out of business, but then it wants to force it to continue to pay all forms of taxes and fees.

      Does this look more and more like a dictatorship?

      The Shumlin/Shap Smith management team seems to be able to get away with almost anything it wants to do, legal or not. Don’t forget: if they can succeed in abusing a corporation, they can probably succeed in intimidating you too.

      • This kind of behavior by Shumlin and super majority legislature does not go unnoticed by companies looking for new places to locate……..and Vermont and its citizens ultimately pay the price as the jobs go elsewhere.

        • Willem Post

          Peter,
          As a former banker, you know exactly what companies are looking for regarding setting up or expanding a business in Vermont.

      • Willem Post

        Ralph,

        Intimidating and fooling Vermont’s people?

        The Bob Dodge real estate caper? EB-5?

        We have to endure a few more months, and much of his posses will be gone.

  • Lester French

    Vtdigger should expand the scope when reporting on emergency planning. Look at the state wide need for emergency planning. What travels by rail, by truck and what chemicals are found all over that, were the wrong conditions met, require significant emergency response.

  • Oops…….Could nuclear be back in……… while Vermont is out in the cold?

    According to today’s New York Times, Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s Secretary of Energy, indicates that his department is looking at ways to make struggling nuclear plants work. They’re needed as a source of clean energy.

    Meanwhile the Shumlin administration and his posse have been working over time for years to drive Vermont Yankee out of business.

    The dangers of basing public policy on ideology could again be raising its ugly head and creating another “Nothingburger” situation for our fumbling Governor ………this time its being on the wrong side of nuclear energy issue.

    See: the NY Times article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/business/energy-environment/nuclear-plants-despite-safety-concerns-gain-support-as-clean-energy-sources.html?_r=0

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