NRC Won’t Intervene In Yankee Lawsuit

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(Host) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it won’t intervene in the lawsuit against the state over the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee plant.

Yankee owner Entergy wants a court to rule that only the federal government has the right to control Yankee’s future operation.

But the NRC says Vermont has a regulatory role as well.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Entergy a 20-year extension of Yankee’s operating license.

And Entergy’s lawsuit says Vermont cannot veto that decision. It says federal law trumps a state statute that requires approval of the Legislature and the Public Service Board for Yankee to operate beyond its original 40-year license.

But NRC spokesman Neal Sheehan says the state has a role in the plant’s operation, and the federal government won’t try to assert overall authority.

(Sheehan) "At this point, we are not anticipating playing a role in this legal challenge.  But we will have to review it."

(Dillon) NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko made a similar point when the commission awarded Yankee the new license. He said the federal decision was just one of a series of regulatory approvals that Entergy needs.

(Jaczko) "From what I’ve seen so far from the actions of the state, the actions that they are taking do not involve any of our authorities or responsibilities."

(Dillon) Governor Peter Shumlin says it’s significant that the NRC seems to be taking a hands-off approach to the litigation. Shumlin said he and the Vermont congressional delegation have discussed the issue with Jaczko.

(Shumlin) "They do not intend to file suit; they do not intend to join the case. They do not intend to stand in the way of the clear right of the state of Vermont to determine our future."

(Dillon) The U.S. Supreme Court has already addressed the question of a state’s role in regulating nuclear power. In a 1983 unanimous decision involving a California utility, the court said the federal government should oversee nuclear safety.

But the court also said that states – quote "retain their traditional responsibility" – for determining questions of need, reliability, cost and other related state concerns.

Yankee has a record of operating more than 500 days without a shutdown – a fact that Yankee supporters say shows the plant is reliable. But Shumlin says repeated mishaps at the plant, including leaking pipes and collapsed cooling towers, shows it is unreliable.

NRC chairman Jaczko told reporters last month that the federal government may leave it to the state to decide what constitutes acceptable "reliability."

(Jaczko) "Determination of what is acceptable for reliability – all of those kinds of things are in the purview of the state, and I would not anticipate that we would be involved in that determination."

(Dillon) And the NRC also says Vermont has clear authority over other aspects of Yankee’s operation. That includes state environmental review for a discharge permit the plant needs to release heated water into the Connecticut River.

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

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