Vermont Yankee decommissioning funds insufficient

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(Host) The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant does not have enough money to dismantle and remove the reactor when its license expires in five years.

But Yankee executives and state officials say they’re not concerned. They say the plant can be safely closed and protected for decades, until the there’s enough money to pay for a full decommissioning.

VPR’s John Dillon reports: 

(Dillon) Vermont Yankee’s license expires in 2012. And lawmakers in southern Vermont want to know if there’s enough money set aside to take the plant apart and dispose of it safely.

Senator Peter Shumlin represents Windham County.

(Shumlin) The notion that that plant, after it’s shutdown, has to sit there for 50 or perhaps 60 years in order for them to build up enough money to take it away is both frightening and absolutely shocking to most of us.

(Dillon) David McElwee is a nuclear energy engineer for Entergy Vermont Yankee. He says there isn’t enough money now for decommissioning in 2012. And he said Entergy has not added any money to the $431 million decommissioning fund since it bought the plant five years ago.

(McElwee) Only if it was required to meet minimum NRC requirements would Entergy have to put money into the fund.

(Dillon) McElwee says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows plants to be mothballed for decades prior to actual decommissioning. The process is called Safe Store. McElwee says there are two advantages to Safe Store. First, it allows the decommissioning fund to grow over time. And second, the radioactive material on site becomes less dangerous.

(McElwee) So Safe Store allows for less worker exposure because materials decay over time, and less cost to dispose of them because they’ll be less material to be disposed of as radioactive waste.

(Dillon) Officials at the Public Service Department – which represents ratepayers – are not worried about the decommissioning fund.

Steve Wark is a department spokesman. He says the fund was not intended to pay for full decommissioning when the plant’s original license expires. He said the fund should have enough money a decade later – by 2022.

(Wark) That said, if for some reason 2012 is the date where Vermont Yankee no longer operates, the Safe Store method is a completely feasible way of dealing with the waste.

(Dillon) The NRC allows a plant to be in the Safe Store mode for up to 60 years. But the prospect of delayed decommissioning does not please Shumlin. He says the federal government’s failure to site a high level nuclear waste dump already means that Yankee will have to store radioactive waste on site for decades to come.  

(Shumlin) It’s a shock to us to learn that we may also be stuck with an aging plant that’s been shutdown … It’s a pretty upsetting concept to hear that Entergy assumes that we all understand that we may have the carcass sitting there because we don’t have the money to take it away.

(Dillon) Shumlin and other lawmakers have asked state auditor Tom Salmon to investigate the decommissioning issue. Salmon said he is just in the initial stages of gathering information.

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

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