US nuclear regulator OKs Vermont Yankee extension

11 March 2011

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has said that it will renew the operating licence for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant for a further 20 years, although the regulator does not have the final say in the plant's future operation.

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee (Image: NRC)
In voting to conclude legal proceedings regarding the extension to Vermont Yankee's operating licence, the NRC says it has brought to an end almost five years of wrangling over Entergy Nuclear Operations's application. NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko described the move as the final step in a detailed technical and legal process to examine whether licence renewal would be appropriate. "Since there are other approval processes outside the NRC, we'll continue to ensure Vermont Yankee is meeting the appropriate public health and safety standards regardless of the reactor's ultimate status," Jaczko added.
Jaczko's comment refers to the fact that Vermont is the only US state entitled to have a say in the relicensing of nuclear power plants. In January 2010, the state voted by 26 votes to 4 against extending the licence of Vermont's only operating nuclear power station. Its current licence expires in March 2012.
Entergy Nuclear Operations submitted the licence renewal application for the single boiling water reactor in January 2006. The NRC subsequently carried out the relevant reviews and issued a safety evaluation report (SER) on the application in May 2008. Meanwhile, the state of Vermont and antinuclear group the New England Coalition (NEC) challenged the submission and the NRC's independent adjudicator, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), accepted their request for a hearing. As a result of the hearing, the ASLB in 2008 instructed Entergy to revise some metal fatigue analyses for two important nozzles at the plant. Entergy submitted revised analyses the following year. NEC challenged the adequacy of the new analysis but the new challenge was denied by the ASLB.
Since then both the NRC staff and NEC have appealed against various aspects of the ASLB's decisions. By October 2010, the ASLB had rejected all of NEC's contentions. The NRC vote affirms the ASLB's decision and brings to an end the legal hearing.
Three Vermont senators, Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch, issued a statement calling for plant operator Entergy to abide by the state's decision on the plant's future. "It should surprise no one that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to extend Vermont Yankee's licence for another 20 years," the trio said, going on: "We believe that Entergy should respect and abide by Vermont's laws, which require approval from the Vermont Legislature, and then the Vermont Public Service Board, for the plant to continue to operate beyond 2012." The discovery in January 2010 of elevated levels of tritium at the plant site helped reinforce local opposition to the plant's continued operation.
Vermont Yankee began operating in November 1972. The NRC says it expects to issue the renewed licence, which will run until March 2032, "soon".
Researched and written

by World Nuclear News