Union, environmental group seek role in Yankee sale review

Vermont Yankee 2010
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
VERNON — A labor union and an environmental advocacy nonprofit are the latest groups looking to participate directly in a review of the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee.

The Conservation Law Foundation and Local 300 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have filed motions for intervention before the state Public Service Board, which is considering a New York decommissioning company’s request to buy the Vernon nuclear plant.

The organizations have very different interests in the sale: The South Burlington-based union local is looking to support Vermont Yankee staffers and decommissioning contractors, while the law foundation is citing its “substantial interest” in environmental and economic issues.

“The outcome of this case will certainly affect Vermonters for many years to come,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney at the foundation’s Montpelier office. “Making sure that the site is cleaned up well and that there is no ongoing legacy of pollution is very important.”

Entergy stopped power production at Vermont Yankee in December 2014 and had been planning to put the plant in SAFSTOR, a dormancy program under which decommissioning can take up to six decades.

In November, however, Entergy announced plans to sell the plant and its decommissioning fund to NorthStar Group Services. The company is promising to finish decommissioning and restoration on a majority of the site by the end of 2030.

Entergy and NorthStar want to close the deal by the end of 2018. But the sale is contingent on approval from both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Service Board.

The PSB has released a lengthy review schedule that includes two public hearings in Vernon.

Intervention doesn’t signal opposition to the Vermont Yankee sale, but rather an interest in becoming a formal party to the state’s review. The Windham Regional Commission and the New England Coalition previously had asked for permission to intervene, citing a variety of issues including orderly development, site restoration, economic benefits, aesthetics, environmental impact and public safety.

In an intervention motion filed Monday, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers says it is “dedicated to maintaining and preserving the safety, health, welfare and benefits of approximately 13 members” working at Vermont Yankee.

That’s a much smaller number than it used to be: At one point, the union had 190 members at the plant, said Jeffrey Wimette, the local’s business manager.

He noted that further staff reductions – tied to the removal of Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel from a cooling pool – are expected to happen sooner than had once been anticipated. Entergy initially had planned to put all spent fuel in sealed casks by the end of 2020, but that’s been bumped up to the end of 2018 – just in time for the sale to NorthStar.

Wimette said that’s an issue for electrical union workers and for others still working at the plant. While some Vermont Yankee staffers may be able to sign on with NorthStar, “there’s a concern that people are going to be displaced sooner rather than later,” he said.

Wimette also pointed out, however, that the union “has some members down there doing pre-decommissioning tasks” as contractors. And there could be more such contractors on site when decommissioning starts.

The Public Service Board, in reviewing the Vermont Yankee sale proposal, will be making determinations about “the safety and well-being of the current and future employees” at the plant, the union’s petition says.

The board also will be evaluating “the soundness of the proposed transfer of ownership, as well as the responsibility and management of the Vermont Yankee facility,” the document says.

Wimette said the union’s concerns should not be interpreted as opposition to the plant sale. The same is true for the Conservation Law Foundation, at least at this point, according to Levine.

“We’re still reviewing the proposal and evaluating it,” Levine said. “So we haven’t reached any conclusions yet.”

But there’s no question about the foundation’s interest in the matter, both for the short term and long term. The group’s Feb. 14 motion for intervention cites a need to “ensure the environment and communities are protected during the extended period that the facility will be undergoing decommissioning and site restoration.”

The organization also says the Public Service Board’s review and decision “will have a significant impact on the economic and environmental future of Vermont and the region, including the ability to use the Vermont Yankee facility site for other uses in the future.”

The impact of the proposed Vermont Yankee sale, Levine added in an interview, extends beyond the issues before the Public Service Board.

“This is one of a number of nuclear plants that is owned by Entergy,” she said. “This may affect how other facilities are decommissioned and cleaned up. That makes it particularly important to make sure the job is done right.”

The Public Service Board on Wednesday issued an order granting the intervention motions of the Windham Regional Commission and the New England Coalition. The board has not acted on the motions filed by the electrical union and the CLF.

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