State Backs Activists In Challenging Vermont Yankee License

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(Host) The state of Vermont has joined anti-nuclear activists in a legal challenge to Vermont Yankee’s new 20-year operating license.

The state says the Nuclear Regulatory  Commission skipped a step when it issued the license extension in March.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) At issue is a Clean Water Act permit that the state says is required in order for the NRC to grant Yankee the license extension.

The state administers the Clean Water Act, and it says Yankee does not have approval under section 401 of the act for its site on the Connecticut River.

Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz says the NRC needs to withdraw the license extension until Yankee shows that it has complied with state and federal water quality laws.

(Markowitz) "To get a new license the Entergy power plant has to have a section 401 certification. And so what we did was file a petition for review in the DC circuit seeking to overturn the federal NRC license based on this narrow issue – that the license had been issued even though Entergy hadn’t sought or received a section 401 certificate."

(Dillon) Markowitz said the legal action was not linked to Yankee’s federal lawsuit that challenges the state’s authority over the nuclear power plant.

(Markowitz) "It’s a technical deficiency in the license. And we filed the petition to protect Vermont‘s rights under the Clean Water Act to require a 401 permit."

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said that the company believes it does have a valid Clean Water Act certificate.

(Smith) "The Vermont state environmental agency was very involved in and commented specifically on water quality issues in the NRC’s license renewal process for Vermont Yankee. At to our knowledge at no time in that process did they comment whether the certification that we currently have was sufficient."

(Dillon) The state is joined in the case by the New England Coalition, a group that opposes a new license for the Vernon reactor. The coalition’s lawyer is Chris Kilian, the Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Kilian said the record is clear. Entergy does not have the required Clean Water Act approval to operate for another 20 years past March of 2012.

(Kilian) "So the unlawful act here was issuance of a license without a water quality certification. And at this juncture, Entergy Vermont Yankee hasn’t even applied for a water quality certification."

(Dillon) Kilian says the water quality approval is needed for any potential discharges from Yankee’s Vernon site, including stormwater run-off.

He says a previous water quality certificate – first granted when the plant was built 39 years ago – may not take into account more recent pollution issues, such as discharges through groundwater contamination from radiation leaks.

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

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