Yankee decommissioning fund drops in value following Wall St. turmoil

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(Host) The financial health of the Vermont Yankee decommissioning fund has become an issue in the governor’s race, because the fund has lost more than $40 million in the last year.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington says she’s concerned that taxpayers could get stuck with hundreds of millions of dollars in clean up costs when the plant is eventually shut down.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:


What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago, there was $440 million in the decommissioning fund – but the turmoil on Wall Street has caused the fund to lose more than $43 million or roughly 10% of its value.

It’s estimated that it will cost between $800 million and a billion dollars to eventually decommission the plant.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington says the uncertain financial condition of the fund was a major reason why lawmakers passed legislation last winter to require the owners of the facility to take out a line of credit to cover any shortfall in the fund.

It was a bill that was vetoed by Governor Jim Douglas:

(Symington) "I think that really underscores the fact that we need to protect Vermont taxpayers and rate payers by making sure that Entergy is help responsible for its promise to fully fund the decommissioning fund."

Douglas says he vetoed the bill because he thinks putting this additional financial burden on Entergy would have led to higher electrical rates after current contracts expire. He also says Entergy has a legal agreement with the federal government to fully decommission the plant:

(Douglas) "This downturn in our economy is not going to go away anytime soon we have to make sure that Vermont is a competitive place to work to live and create jobs in the future… so I think it was the right thing to do I have no doubt that the resources will be there when the time comes."

And Douglas says the health of the fund must be viewed with a long term perspective:

(Douglas) "We know that we need more resources over time but every account is down."

Symington says she’s astounded by Douglas’s position:

(Symington) "I think that argument is nonsense. I can’t imagine that anybody with a straight face can imagine that even in good times the investment value of a fund is going to increase at a faster pace than the cost of cleaning up after a nuclear power plant that’s been closed down."

Vermont Yankee is seeking a 20 year license extension. Whether that plan is approved or not, plant officials say it’s possible that the facility will eventually be placed in what’s known as a Safe Storage mode for several decades after Vermont Yankee stops producing power.

They argue that will provide enough time for the decommissioning fund to generate sufficient revenue to safely dismantle the plant.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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