Vermont goes forward with waste disposal payment

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(Host) Vermont will pay Texas to develop a nuclear waste dump, even though construction for the project hasn’t started. The Douglas administration says the state is obligated to pay the money under a 1993 contract. But critics say the state should renegotiate to strike a better deal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) A federal law makes the states responsible for low level nuclear waste. So ten years ago Vermont and Maine struck a deal to ship the waste – primarily contaminated equipment and clothing – to Texas. But Vermont never made the first payment of $12.5 million because the first dump site was rejected by Texas.

Now Texas has passed a law that allows private developers to build a new dump. Texas asked Vermont to pay the $12.5 million by November 1. State Auditor of Accounts Elizabeth Ready says it’s a bad idea to send the check now.

(Ready) “There is no site, no compact and no group of states has been successful in locating a site. And until we have a permitted site I really don’t want to see $12.5 million going from Vermont to Texas. I don’t think it’s a prudent move. I think we would be very well served to renegotiate this particular deal in light of these changes.”

(Dillon) Ready worries that if the money is spent and the site isn’t built, the state won’t have the funds available to invest in an alternative.

(Ready) “There are some real concerns about this site. First of all, it is located on a primary aquifer, the Ogalala Aquifer in Texas. It may well end up with the same kind of fate as the last site, which was ultimately rejected by a Texas environmental commission. So before we pony up, before we pay this money. I think there are some very serious questions that need to be answered.”

(Dillon) The bill will ultimately be paid by the generators of the waste, mainly Entergy Vermont Yankee, the company that owns the state’s only nuclear power plant.

Administration Secretary Michael Smith says Entergy has promised that the funds won’t come from ratepayers. And he says a legal opinion by the attorney general’s office shows the state has no choice but to make the payment.

(Smith) “We’re going to be talking with Texas. But our legal standing is fairly clear about what we’re obligated to do. When the compact was first negotiated these issues were discussed, and still the fact is that Texas is obligated to build the facility. And that’s what we are going to assume Texas will do.”

(Dillon) Smith says the state will make the payment to Texas next month and then collect the money from the generators of the low level waste.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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