Yankee decommissioning bill passes in Senate

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(Host) The Senate has passed a bill that requires the owners of Vermont Yankee to set aside money to dismantle the plant if it’s sold.

Senators said they were worried if Vermont Yankee is spun off into a new corporation, ratepayers could get stuck paying for its decommissioning.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Entergy, the Louisiana-based owner of Vermont Yankee, wants to create a new corporation called Enexus, which would own Yankee and several other nuclear plants.

Washington Senator Anne Cummings chairs the Finance Committee. She said that if Yankee is spun off into the new company, there may not be enough money to pay for decommissioning.

(Cummings) "If there is a spin-off and if there is a bankruptcy or the minute Entergy VY closes, ENVY has nothing, it has the decommissioning fund, whatever it is, and it has a hot plant – which is a liability. It has no other assets. All the assets right now, other than the plant, go south to Louisiana."

(Dillon) The cost to decommission Yankee and clean up the site is estimated at about $915 million.

But the fund to pay for the work now has about $360 million.

Yankee says it has the option to put the plant in safe storage for up to 60 years while the fund builds up in value. But Senate President Peter Shumlin said that’s not what residents of southern Vermont thought would happen when the facility was first licensed 37 years ago.

(Shumlin) "I want to make very clear that to our residents in Windham County, no one has ever said to them that the carcass of a nuclear power plant after it’s shut down – with the high level waste – will be theirs for 20 years because there isn’t enough money in the fund to take it away."  

(Dillon) The Senate passed the decommissioning bill on an overwhelming 22-4 vote. But the bill is substantially different than a version that passed the House earlier this year. The House bill says Entergy has to set aside money in stages before its license expires in 2012.

Bob Stannard is a lobbyist with Citizens Action Network, which opposes Yankee’s request to extend its license after 2012. He says the House decommissioning bill is more comprehensive.

(Stannard) "I certainly think that the House’s approach to dealing with today, in light of the fact that the plant has had so many mishaps over the last year, I think that the House approach was a prudent approach, and is a valid approach. And I think it would be wise to consider dealing with what’s happening between now and 2012."

(Dillon) A conference committee will now work out the differences in the two bills.

But even if those differences are resolved, the bill faces opposition from Governor Jim Douglas. He vetoed similar legislation last year.

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

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