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Panel Wants Quick Vermont Yankee Decommissioning

AP/ Toby Talbot
Public Service Department Commissioner Christopher Recchia listens during a meeting of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel.

A panel that advises state government on nuclear issues wants the Vermont Yankee plant dismantled promptly after it shuts down next year.

Vermont Yankee is allowed to take up to 60 years to decommission the plant and restore the site for other uses.

The Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel doesn’t want Entergy to wait that long. But at a meeting on Wednesday, the panel stopped short of calling for new state permit conditions that would impose a decommissioning timetable.

Decommissioning costs, the dangers of spent nuclear fuel, and the lifespan of corporations were all up for discussion as the panel met in Montpelier.

Jim Matteau is a member of the panel and the former executive director of the Windham Regional Commission. Like most other panel members, Matteau wants Entergy to move quickly to dismantle the plant.

“Prompt decommissioning it seems to me is a good thing, by itself, compared to SAFSTOR, and so that should be encouraged,” Matteau said.

SAFSTOR is the option that Entergy wants to pursue. Under this scenario, the company could mothball the plant for up to 60 years, while the components cool down, get less radioactive, and the company’s decommissioning fund builds up in value.

Matteau was joined in his opposition to SAFSTOR by panel member Les Kanat, a geology professor at Johnson State College. Kanat said SAFSTOR puts the hard choices – and the financial obligations – on to the next generation of Entergy officials.

“The only reason to delay beyond a 10 year minimum I would see  is because it saves Entergy money,” he said. “We don’t know where that company is going to be in the future. And it’s risky, and I think it would be risky to allow it to continue beyond the decon timeframe.”

The Public Service Board is considering Entergy Vermont Yankee’s request to run the Vernon plant until late next year.

But the advisory panel did not recommend that the new state permit contain a quick decommissioning timetable.

Chris Recchia is the commissioner of the department of public service, which will file proposed permit conditions at the end of the week. He said the panel’s input is helpful as the state weighs what conditions to ask for in the permit.

“There are certainly things that are within the board’s purview and other things that are not within the board’s purview,” he said. “We believe that site restoration and re-use of the site for economic development purposes is clearly certainly within the board’s purview.”

The state of Vermont and Entergy have clashed in court over the extent of the state’s ability to regulate nuclear power plants. The state’s been on the losing end of these legal battles. So Vernon Republican representative Michael Hebert suggested it was time to hit the re-set button with Entergy.

“I think what we need to do is change our relationship with Entergy. If we put additional demands on VY, they’re going to become entrenched,” he said.

Hebert, who is a member of the advisory panel, suggested language in the panel’s resolution that urges the two sides to work constructively together.