State utility regulators have approved the transfer of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to NorthStar, a demolition company that has has committed to decommissioning the plant decades earlier than previously planned.
The Vermont Public Utility Commission said a main benefit of NorthStar's plan was that decommissioning will begin no later than 2021. The current owner of the Vernon plant, the Entergy Corporation, had planned to delay cleanup of the site until at least 2053.
"We are very pleased with the efforts of all parties and the level of informed public involvement in this proceeding," PUC Commissioner Margaret Cheney said in a prepared statement issued Thursday. "We are satisfied that approving the transfer and moving forward with the accelerated cleanup schedule for the Vermont Yankee site is in the best interests of the people of Vernon and the State of Vermont."
NorthStar CEO Scott State said in an interview that the faster decommissioning timetable was a big part of the company winning regulatory approval.
"I think we brought the certainty of decommissioning and obviously we accelerated the schedule some decades," State said. "But we tried to come at this with an approach that was important to all the stakeholders. We want to thank the PUC, obviously, for the decision but also all the state agencies and other intervenors who materially participated and made this a better transaction for everyone."
State said the company hopes to build a successful business by showing it can safely and efficiently decommission shuttered nuclear plants.
"It is our expectation that there will be other opportunities," he said. "There are a number of nuclear plants around the country that are being shutdown and those early retirements are all kind of lining up as opportunities for us going forward."
The transfer to NorthStar was ultimately supported by the New England Coalition, a nuclear watchdog group and longtime Vermont Yankee critic. But the Conservation Law Foundation did not sign on to a deal that paved the way for the PUC approval.
“We are disappointed that Vermont communities will be saddled with a risky transfer of the contaminated Vermont Yankee site,” CLF Senior Attorney Sandra Levine said in a prepared statement. “The transfer of the site fails to provide common sense protections for local families and businesses, and it will leave Vermonters on the hook if something goes wrong.”
In a press release Thursday, the PUC noted a number of factors that supported its decision to approve the transfer:
- "Financial protections and risk-management provisions," which includes "financial assurances" for the decommissioning and site restoration
- Oversight by Vermont agencies during cleanup
- A finding by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that NorthStar is "financially and technically qualified" to decommission the plant on its proposed schedule
- Support for the deal by the public, the state, and regional bodies
Vermont Yankee shut down at the end of 2014. The plant first went on line in 1972.
Update 6:01 p.m. The post was updated to include statements from NorthStar and the Conservation Law Foundation.