Regulators wrap up Yankee re-licensing review

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(Host) The state says Vermont Yankee should not be re-licensed unless it offers a better deal to utilities.

Environmentalists say the risk of extended operation is too great, and the plant should be shut down in three years.

These were among the arguments as regulators wrap up their review of Yankee’s request to extend its license until 2032.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Douglas administration says Yankee has to show Vermont the money if it wants to keep operating for another 20 years.

David O’Brien is commissioner of the Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers. He says Yankee benefits by having a fuel source that is not subject to price swings in the fossil fuel market. O’Brien says Vermont should get something for hosting the nuclear power plant.

(O’Brien) "We want some of that stability and value translated to Vermont ratepayers as a basis of the bargain. Unfortunately today, that question still hasn’t been answered. We still don’t know if there will be a power agreement and if so, what its value will be."

(Dillon) The state also wants Yankee to show it can pay to decommission the plant in 2032, when the new license would run out.

That’s a change from the deal the state reached with Yankee in 2002. That agreement allows Yankee to put the plant in storage for up to 60 years, while it builds up money into the decommissioning fund. O’Brien says circumstances have changed, because Entergy – the plant’s owner – wants to spin off Yankee into a new company, and run it for another 20 years.

(O’Brien) "From our perspective we just never have been very comfortable with the notion of a 60-year period of time that the plant would sit idle. And what we propose in this case is that there is a regular two- to two-and-a-half-year review process where the adequacy of the fund is looked at in light of the how the fund has performed and what has happened to the cost to dismantle the plant."

(Dillon) But James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says the license should be denied because an accident could cost the state billions of dollars.

(Moore) "There was a report done by the National Academy of Sciences, and that report was added to by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, that outlines $878 billion worth of risk to the Vermont region if there was just one type of accident at Vermont Yankee."

(Dillon) Moore says the Douglas administration in its legal briefs makes a strong case to deny the license extension, but then pulls back.

(Moore) "Basically they’ve laid out that, ‘You’re not meeting any of the conditions that would be required for us to give you permission to operate. But we think we want to do it anyway. We think we want to give you permission, so can’t you agree to all of these things.’"

(Dillon) Moore says the state could be blocked from imposing the conditions on Yankee. He says Entergy, the plant’s owners, could argue that only the federal government has the power to order Yankee to meet the conditions.

Entergy, in its brief, says it should be allowed to operate for another 20 years. And it promised to follow the recommendations of an independent audit to make the plant more reliable.

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

(Host) The Public Service Board will soon make a preliminary ruling on whether Yankee should get state permission to extend its license. State law says final approval is up to the Legislature. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission also has to rule on the license request.

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