Entergy, NorthStar want critical comments nixed

Arnie Gundersen
Arnie Gundersen, a Burlington-based nuclear engineer, speaks before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during a hearing on the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2015. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

VERNON – Two prominent nuclear critics sent state officials sharply worded criticisms this summer of NorthStar Group Services’ proposal to buy and decommission Vermont Yankee.

NorthStar and Entergy, the Vernon plant’s current owner, now want state regulators to throw out both of those documents.

The companies have filed a motion asking the Vermont Public Utility Commission to exclude testimony filed by Ray Shadis and Arnie Gundersen on behalf of the Brattleboro-based anti-nuclear group New England Coalition.

Gundersen, the companies claim, ignored crucial evidence. And they say Shadis is not qualified to testify on Vermont Yankee decommissioning either as a layperson or an expert.

“Mr. Shadis may be a self-taught advocate for many positions the (New England Coalition) holds, but he is not an expert in any of the topics on which he has presented testimony,” attorneys for both companies wrote.

Entergy is seeking state and federal permission to sell the idled Vermont Yankee plant to NorthStar by the end of next year. NorthStar has promised to clean up most of the site by 2030, which is decades faster than Entergy had proposed.

While there is broad support for faster decommissioning, some have questioned NorthStar’s ability to deliver on its promises. The New England Coalition has been one of the most vehement critics.

Shadis, a Maine resident serving as a technical consultant to the coalition, filed testimony Aug. 30 with the Public Utility Commission expressing financial, radiological and site restoration concerns about NorthStar’s plans.

Among other recommendations, Shadis wants lower residual radiation levels than NorthStar is proposing for the decommissioned site. He also said the property should not be redeveloped for nearly 200 years so it can “lie fallow and over time heal itself of radiological pollution through the natural decay of radionuclides.”

Additionally, Shadis is an outspoken critic of NorthStar’s proposal to employ “rubblization” at the site by burying large amounts of Vermont Yankee’s crushed concrete. His reasons include the property’s historic and cultural importance to the Abenaki Native American tribe.

Vermont Yankee 2010
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. File photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
“To proceed with tipping industrial waste concrete into the Vermont Yankee foundations while knowing what the site once was is, in my opinion, tantamount to a hate crime,” Shadis wrote.

In his testimony, Gundersen – a nuclear engineer consulting for the New England Coalition – went after NorthStar’s financial wherewithal and planning.

He said the company’s lack of experience in nuclear decommissioning “has led me to conclude that there is a significant financial risk to the state of Vermont and its citizens if Vermont Yankee were to be decommissioned and dismantled with the petitioners’ approach.”

Gundersen believes Vermont Yankee could be decommissioned “during the early 2030s time frame or sooner by other financially stable and technically qualified contractors using the available decommissioning funds.”

NorthStar and Entergy don’t think the Public Utility Commission should consider any such statements when deciding whether Vermont Yankee can change hands. The companies targeted Gundersen and Shadis in a joint motion Friday, arguing that “the testimony of both witnesses should be excluded.”

Though Shadis has a long history of nuclear activism, the companies note that his “education is in the arts,” not nuclear engineering. Shadis “has not demonstrated the requisite qualifications to opine on the subjects of this testimony.”

Even if Shadis is acting as a lay witness rather than an expert, his testimony “primarily encompasses matters on which he possesses no personal knowledge,” the companies’ attorneys wrote.

As for Gundersen, of Burlington-based Fairewinds Associates, the filing from Entergy and NorthStar says he has disregarded critical information in the Vermont Yankee case.

The companies focused on Gundersen’s admission that he reviewed proprietary NorthStar financial documents but “found none of the material was useful in reaching any conclusions.”

Gundersen’s “decision to ignore this essential material makes his conclusions about such financial risk completely unreliable and therefore inadmissible,” the companies contend.

Neither Gundersen nor Shadis was available for comment on the attempt to nix their testimony.

A staffer for a New England Coalition attorney said Gundersen will defer comment until the coalition’s written response is filed with the Public Utility Commission. And Shadis is out of the country.

It’s not the first time Entergy and the coalition have been at odds over testimony filed with state regulators.

Last year, the state overruled Entergy’s attempts to have Shadis’ testimony excluded from deliberations about spent fuel storage at Vermont Yankee. Eventually, however, the state approved Entergy’s plans.

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