Vermont Senate opposes plant licence renewal

25 February 2010

The Vermont Senate has voted against the extension of the operating licence of the US state's only nuclear power plant - Entergy's Vermont Yankee plant - for a further 20 years beyond 2012.


Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee - heading for 2012 shut down? (Image: NRC)
The Vermont Yankee plant, comprising a single 600 MWe boiling water reactor (BWR), began operating in November 1972. Its operating licence is due to expire on 21 March 2012, but in January 2006 Entergy submitted an application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to extend the licence by 20 years to March 2032. The application is currently being reviewed by the applicable regulatory agencies.


Safety-related issues at nuclear power plants are normally handled by the NRC, but the state of Vermont negotiated a role for itself in 2006 as a condition for allowing Entergy to store used fuel in dry casks on-site at Vermont Yankee after the plant’s used fuel storage pool filled up. Vermont is the only US state with a law giving its legislature a say over a nuclear power plant's relicensing.


The Vermont Senate voted by four in favour and 26 against the extended operation of the Vermont Yankee plant, which supplies around one-third of the state's electricity. Their reasons for voting against renewing the plant's operating licence included safety concerns, as well as worries that electricity prices in the state could be higher and more volatile if Entergy continues operating the reactor.


However, the vote may not be final. Vermont lawmakers could vote on the issue again in 2011 - after the November elections - and reverse the decision. Entergy could also seek to override the decision.


In a statement, Entergy said: "The effort to win a 20-year renewal of Vermont Yankee's operating licence is far from over. We remain determined to prove our case to the legislature, state officials and the Vermont public."


Entergy plans to spin-off six nuclear power reactors, including Vermont Yankee, into the USA's first stand-alone nuclear power company, to be called Enexus Energy Corp.


Tritium leak


The discovery last month of increased levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, in test wells at the Vermont Yankee site has fuelled opposition to the plant. The safety concerns have been coupled with accusations that Entergy misled state officials on the existence of underground piping potentially causing the leak.


Entergy has told the Vermont Attorney General that an internal investigation found its employees did not intentionally mislead state officials, but statements of workers "led to misunderstanding and, taken out of that context, the responses were incomplete and misleading." The company added that it has placed five senior employees on administrative leave and reprimanded six other managers, including Michael Colomb, the vice president of the Vermont Yankee site.


Colomb said in a statement, "While there was no intentional wrongdoing, it is not consistent with our expectations at Vermont Yankee or in the nuclear industry, nor is it consistent with our values at Entergy."


The NRC has said that it will issue a demand for information (DFI) to Entergy to determine what, if any, regulatory actions are necessary regarding the Vermont Yankee plant. NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko said, "Senior [NRC] personnel will soon arrive at Vermont Yankee to verify assertions and information that Entergy has provided regarding its recent licensing activities."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News