Entergy files suit to keep plant open

19 April 2011

Entergy Corporation has filed a complaint with the US District Court in a bid to prevent the state of Vermont from forcing the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in 2012.

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee (Image: NRC)
The suit filed by Entergy subsidiaries Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and Entergy Nuclear Operations follows the March 2011 decision by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to renew the plant's operating licence to March 2032. The single boiling water reactor plant has been in operation since 1972. The state of Vermont remains opposed to the operation of the plant beyond the expiry of its original licence, in March 2012.

The NRC's licence renewal decision, reached after an in-depth review, would normally be sufficient to ensure that a plant could continue to operate. However, in the case of Vermont Yankee, state approval is also needed for it to extend operations – a condition of the purchase of the plant by Entergy in 2002. Under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed at the time, the two Entergy subsidiaries had agreed they would seek a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board if seeking to operate the plant beyond 21 March 2012. Entergy contests that a law passed by the Vermont General Assembly in 2006 repudiated the MoU, breaching the agreement and excusing the two Entergy subsidiaries' obligation to further comply with that specific provision.

"The 2006 state law took the decision about Vermont Yankee's future away from the Public Service Board, a quasi-judicial expert decision-maker, independent of legislative control," said Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Richard Smith. In so doing, it "placed Vermont Yankee's fate in the hands of political decision-makers," who could deny the plant's continued operation for unsupported or arbitrary reasons. "This is not what we signed up for in 2002," Smith added.

Entergy says it has made considerable efforts to achieve the necessary state approvals to allow the continued operation of the plant without resorting to litigation, including filing for a certificate of public good, offering Vermont utilities favourable terms for long-term power purchase agreements, offering to negotiate a date for commencement of decommissioning activities at Vermont Yankee earlier than the 60-year SAFSTOR period permitted by NRC regulations, and exploring the potential sale of the plant. The company says its recent attempts to sell the plant were stymied by political uncertainty in the state, and "more specifically, due to the stated intent of Vermont officials to shut down the plant."

Smith described litigation as by far the last preferred approach, but the action was taken following a 30 March meeting between Entergy and state governor Peter Shumlin in which the governor reiterated his opposition to the continued operation of Vermont Yankee beyond March 2012.

The suit contends that the state of Vermont is violating the Atomic Energy Act in asserting that it can close a federally licensed and operating nuclear power plant, and the Federal Power Act in making an agreement to provide power to Vermont utilities at preferential wholesale rates a condition of continued operation.

Meanwhile, Governor Shumlin accused Entergy of "attempting to rewrite history." Shumlin states that the 2006 law clearly outlined the requirements for continued operation of a nuclear power plant in the state. "When it purchased Vermont Yankee, Entergy clearly agreed that it must obtain a new state licence to operate beyond March 2012, and that it would not attempt to claim preemption regarding the state's licensing decision," he said. "Vermont has a proper role in granting or denying state approval for Vermont Yankee," he added.

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News

 

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