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Decommissioning problems with Vermont Yankee Nuclear reactor


Entergy Corp., the company that runs the reactor, is plagued by financial problems, and operating the Vermont plant was an expense it could no longer afford. In late August, Entergy announced it would close the plant, ironically just days after the Louisiana corporation won a long-running court battle with the state over the right continue operating the Vernon facility for an additional 20 years.

Entergy amended its application with the Public Service Board and is now seeking a one year license to operate the plant through the end of 2014, when Vermont Yankee is slated to close.

The board held off from ruling on the relicensure case at the request of the Shumlin administration while state officials settled differences over decommissioning, the economic impact of the plant closure, hot water discharges into the Connecticut River and a generation tax.

Many of those issues were resolved when the state and Entergy reached an agreement last week that sets a decommissioning completion date of 10 to 15 years, decades sooner than required by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 60-year timeframe. Entergy also agreed to pay millions of dollars in payments to the state in tax revenues and in support for regional economic development efforts. In addition, the agreement settled all pending federal litigation.

The settlement is contingent on the Public Service Board approving the plant’s certificate of public good before March 31, 2014.

There are other outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved. The two parties disagree over whether Entergy’s Decommissioning Trust Fund is sufficient to support decommissioning. In addition, the state and the company do not yet have a common understanding of how the site will be restored. Entergy must file a decommissioning plan with the NRC after the plant is closed.

The state is concerned that the 42-year old merchant plant’s worsening financial foundation could compromise the operational safety of the facility in the near term and the decommissioning process over the long haul.

It is unclear what the plant will do with 530 tons of radioactive waste stored on the premises. Vermont Yankee has 3,879 fuel rod assemblies submerged in a spent fuel pool that was originally designed to hold about 350. Spent fuel rods must be kept under water to prevent them from igniting, but once they are cooled, they can be transferred into long-term cement “dry casks.” Vermont Yankee will need 58 casks in all. Right now, the facility has 13. Each cask costs about $1 million.

The agreement requires that all the spent nuclear fuel stored on site pools be placed in dry cask storage, which Gov. Peter Shumlin said could take up to seven years.

Entergy’s decision to close Vermont Yankee was the result of declining wholesale market prices and competition with natural gas. Merchant plants are investor-funded; early this year a Swiss financial services firm UBS Securities downgraded Entergy Corp.’s stock and urged investors to sell.

The downgrade came on the heels of a report by UBS Securities that found Entergy “is unlikely to generate any meaningful cash” from wholesale commodities in 2013 and 2014.

Entergy’s nuclear fleet includes the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Indian Point Energy Center and the James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant in New York, and the Palisades Power Plant in Michigan.

January 1, 2014 - Posted by | decommission reactor

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