(Host) There’s regulatory uncertainty surrounding Vermont Yankee’s plan to boost its power output by 20 percent. Federal nuclear regulators said this week that they won’t do an additional engineering assessment of the nuclear plant. But Vermont regulators required that assessment as a condition of a power increase.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) The Vermont Public Service Board was quite clear in its order two weeks ago. The board is pre-empted by federal law from ruling on safety issues. But the three member panel said that the reliability of Vermont’s only nuclear plant is very important for the state.
So the board asked federal regulators for a new independent engineering study to make sure that the 20 percent power increase doesn’t cause more shutdowns. The board underscored that the federal review was a key condition of its approval. The board said, “We would not approve this proposal otherwise.”
But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Vermont’s two U.S. Senators this week that the additional work wasn’t needed. That decision leaves the Yankee plan in regulatory limbo.
Orange County Senator Mark MacDonald is on the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel that oversees the Vernon reactor. He says Yankee can’t generate the additional power without the review.
(MacDonald) “I think the board’s conditions are extremely reasonable. Given that of the 100 plants that have gotten or asked for an uprate, no plants of this age have asked for an uprate this large. It is an unprecedented request. And it should be met with an unprecedented review.”
(Dillon) But Yankee has been allowed to begin work on the project, at its own financial risk, pending the federal review. Plant spokesman Rob Williams says the work will begin next month during a previously scheduled shutdown.
Williams says that it’s up to the regulators to decide the question of additional oversight and review.
(Williams) “We’re confident that they’ll work that out between them and in the meantime, we’re installing the equipment at the plant.”
(Dillon) The NRC may be reluctant to agree to a new engineering study because nuclear oversight is primarily a federal responsibility. But critics of the power increase at Yankee say there’s much more at stake than regulatory turf. Peter Alexander is executive director of the New England Coalition, which led the fight against the power uprate.
(Alexander) “I would think Entergy would be prohibited from proceeding if they do not have the independent engineering assessment called for by the Public Service Board.”
(Dillon) David O’Brien heads the state agency that represents ratepayers. He talked with NRC officials on Tuesday, and says he tried to underscore the importance of a thorough federal review.
(O’Brien) “Whether or not they will agree to the term independent engineering assessment, I can’t say. What I’m hopeful is that they will agree to do some additional review procedures and additional man hours related to the uprate to look at things that have been raised in the case.”
(Dillon) There’s one more wrinkle to the question of whether the NRC will conduct a more detailed assessment of the 32-year-old reactor. Although the NRC rejected the request in a letter to Vermont’s two U.S. Senators, it hasn’t replied yet to the Public Service Board. An NRC spokeswoman would not say Tuesday if the PSB will get a different answer. NRC officials will be in Vernon Wednesday to meet with the public and answer questions about the federal review.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.