Administration wants to scale back lawmakers’ review of Vermont Yankee

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(Host) The Douglas Administration wants to scale back a proposed independent review of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Lawmakers have called for the review as they prepare for a vote next year on whether to extend the plant’s license for another 20 years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas joined the call for an independent assessment for Vermont Yankee after the spectacular collapse of a cooling tower last summer undermined public confidence.

The Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation that calls for a detailed review of plant components. The state analysis would be done in addition to a lengthy review by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on whether the plant should be re-licensed.

But the administration is concerned that the Senate bill goes too far. Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien wrote lawmakers this week and said – quote – "the scope of the inspection needs to be narrowed and defined."

Governor Douglas said one problem is satisfying the concerns of the NRC, since the federal regulators have to sign off on the study.

(Douglas) “And within the last year, my counterpart in New York made a similar request and the NRC promptly rejected it. So what we need to do is fashion the scope of that safety assessment so the NRC will say yes rather than no.”

(Dillon) But not everyone trusts the NRC. The nuclear agency has never turned down a re-license application. And environmental groups say the proposed state review needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Bob Stannard represents Citizens Action Network in the Statehouse.

(Stannard) “When the tower collapsed, it rocked the faith and foundation of the people of this state. And they need to know what’s the status of this plant? And how do you find that out? Do you take Entergy’s word for it? Do you take the NRC’s word for it? We have no faith in either one of those entities.”

(Dillon) Entergy is the corporation that owns Vermont Yankee. Company spokesman Brian Cosgrove points out that the NRC staff just finished a detailed study and said the plant is safe to operate for another 20 years.

(Cosgrove) “The bill as proposed in the Senate Finance Committee calls for a 23,000-hour, $6 million study at Vermont Yankee of virtually, apparently, all of the same kind of safety systems that have already been looked at. So on the surface, at least, it appears to be redundant.”

(Dillon) Washington Senator Anne Cummings chairs the Finance Committee.

She says the state could work with the NRC on the study. But she says the Legislature needs independent assurance that the plant is safe and reliable before it allows the 35-year-old reactor to operate for another 20 years.

(Cummings) “The analogy has been made in this committee that it’s like having a 65-year-old person decide that they want to start running marathons. Well, before you’d even start training for that, you’d most certainly want to have a physical that checked out all your systems – your musculature, your heart, your lungs, to make sure you were physically able to go forward with that. And that’s pretty much what we’re asking.”

(Dillon) The full Senate will take up the Yankee bill after the legislature’s Town Meeting break.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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