Governor skeptical of increased oversight of nuclear power

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s skeptical of legislation that would give Vermont and other states a greater role in overseeing nuclear power plants.

The bill is supported by members of Vermont’s congressional delegation.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Both Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch have introduced legislation that would allow states to request an independent safety review of nuclear power plants.

Senator Patrick Leahy has also agreed to co-sponsor the bill.

The bill would also strengthen the role of neighboring states on nuclear safety issues. It would allow, for example, the governor of New Hampshire to ask federal regulators for the independent study when the nearby Vermont Yankee seeks to extend its license for another 20 years.

But Governor Jim Douglas says he’s worried about allowing other states to get involved.

(Douglas) "I think it’s a precedent that we need to be very wary of, to empower adjoining states to be able to have a role in the regulatory proceedings in one state."

(Dillon) But the Douglas Administration has intervened with environmental regulators in other states. Vermont, for example, challenged an air quality permit granted by New York State to a paper mill on Lake Champlain that wanted to burn tires as fuel.

The state has also gone to court to fight pollution coming from Midwest coal plants.

Still, the governor believes the delegation’s nuclear oversight legislation goes too far. He says these kinds of issues are better handled by the courts.

(Douglas) If there was some alleged egregious impact on public safety, I’m sure there is a remedy in the courts now.

(Dillon) Congressman Peter Welch introduced the nuclear oversight legislation in the House after a cooling tower partially collapsed at Vermont Yankee.

Douglas says he can see why the public lacks confidence in Yankee and its inspection procedures.

(Douglas) "I believe it’s safe, but I’m concerned as many Vermonters are how something can collapse fairly soon after an inspection."

(Dillon) But Douglas says the plant has delivered inexpensive power for decades, and is a major reason Vermont electricity rates are low. He says there’s a good chance that Yankee will be re-licensed for another 20 years, after its current license expires in 2012.

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

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