Yankee waste storage may require Legislature’s approval

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(Host) The Legislature may get involved in Vermont Yankee’s plans to expand storage of high-level radioactive waste. The issue is gaining attention because the nuclear plant recently won approval to boost its power output. And the increased power will result in more waste that has to be stored near the Connecticut River in southern Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) A little known state statute says the Legislature must approve any new storage of nuclear waste in Vermont. Yankee’s spent nuclear fuel rods are now submerged deep in a pool inside the reactor complex. But that pool is getting full. And more fuel will be used – and more waste generated – under the power increase plan approved earlier this week by the Public Service Board.

Yankee wants to store the old, radioactive fuel rods inside dry casks on the reactor site until a permanent repository is developed. These are large, above-ground concrete and steel bunkers that are supposed to contain the radiation.

Yankee will need to move to dry cask storage a year sooner – in 2007, instead of 2008 – because of the power increase plan. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch anticipates that the Legislature will get involved.

(Welch) “I think it makes an immense amount of sense for there to be legislative review on this question of whether there’ll be the dry cask storage of a substantial additional amount of waste from the reactor.”

(Dillon) The law exempts the Vermont Yankee Corporation from the legislative review. But the Vernon reactor was sold in 2002 to the Entergy Corporation, a Louisiana company that operates seven other nuclear plants.

Senator Welch says the Legislature should probably get an opinion from the attorney general on the legal question. But Mark Sinclair, senior lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, believes lawmakers would have to sign off on the waste storage plan. And Sinclair points out that the law says state agencies shall “use every proper and available legal means to prevent” the storage site until lawmakers approve the plan.

That language, according to Sinclair, gives the Legislature unusual power. Sinclair says that in Minnesota, lawmakers got a nuclear plant owner to pay for development of wind energy in exchange for expanded waste storage.

(Sinclair) “If Entergy intends to use the state of Vermont as a permanent dumping ground for very hazardous nuclear waste, there’s got to be something in this for Vermonters. I think it is a fair bargain that if we’re going to host nuclear waste for that private company, that that private company invest in Vermont in a way that allows us to invest in safer and more economic energy facilities.”

(Dillon) Senator Welch says that safety should be the first priority for the legislative review.

(Welch) “One of the things that’s been unfortunate about is that the process that was pursued to get approval for the uprate did involve the promise by Entergy to pay $20 million that ended up going to projects that were identified only by the governor. And I think it’s created some apprehension, on the part of people, particularly by Windham County, as to whether or not the safety concerns are for sale. So my focus would really be on safety.”

(Dillon) A Yankee spokesman says the company intends to seek approval for the expanded storage sometime in the next few months. The spokesman said the company would address the issue of legislative jurisdiction at that time.

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

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