VERNON — Decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant may not take the full 60 years Entergy Nuclear is allowed under federal law, a top Entergy executive said Thursday.
Yankee’s pending shutdown and decommissioning — and the plant’s recent problems with the lack of flood seal protection — dominated a meeting of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel on Thursday night at Vernon Elementary School.
Michael Twomey, vice president of external affairs for Entergy Nuclear, Yankee’s owner, told the panel that while the company was leaning toward a delayed decommissioning, it’s not a given that it will take all 60 years allowed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
But Twomey said there would be little activity at the plant, except for handling spent fuel, in any event, for six to 10 years after it shuts down in 2014.
Twomey, who recently testified before two Vermont House committees on the plant’s pending shutdown, said the company had two years after the reactor actually stops generating power next year to study how much it would cost to decommission the plant, and chose a course for federal regulators.
Members of the panel, who had already gone on record for a sooner-rather-than-later decommissioning schedule, asked Twomey why the Safstor option had been chosen by Entergy, and what were the advantages.
Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, questioned Twomey on the NRC rules Entergy would follow when it comes to decommissioning.
MacDonald said the NRC kept changing the rules governing decommissioning of the plant.
“We never got a pre-nuptial agreement from you,” he said. “This has been a marriage with no pre-nup.”
But Twomey’s answers about Entergy’s timetable did nothing to assuage the panel’s concerns.
Panel member Jim Matteau of Westminster maintained that Entergy’s decision to postpone decommissioning was a violation of public trust.
The public had a clear understanding and expectation that Vermont Yankee, when it was shut down, would be cleaned up, Matteau said. He said that the company had a “moral commitment,” and shouldn’t retreat behind “legal parsing, it’s not just right.”
“This is our problem and our responsibility, and to delay this and put this on somebody else to do, or to have a site — a century of not being available, is not right,” Christopher Recchia, Public Service Department commissioner.
“I intend for us to do what we can do,” Recchia said to applause from the audience. Entergy currently has no firm figure on how much it would cost to decommission Vermont Yankee, temporarily store its 40 years of spent nuclear fuel, and restore the site to a “green field,” as Vermont Yankee’s owners have promised since 1972.
Earlier in the meeting, Entergy staff briefed the panel on a series of flood seal problems recently uncovered at the plant.
“We fumbled it,” said Entergy Nuclear liaison engineer Bernard Buteau.
He said the problem — a missing seal — was fixed.
Buteau admitted that a contractor for Entergy had made a mistake, misrepresenting that it had properly installed the necessary flood seals. And Entergy workers failed to verify that the seal was in place, he said.
“Vermont Yankee takes full responsibility for the error and not providing adequate oversight,” Buteau told the panel.
The seals are important to keep surface or flood water from seeping into a series of underground conduit or pipes that may contain electrical systems that are not waterproof.
Buteau told the panel that the misrepresentation by the Entergy contractor — whom he wouldn’t identify — had triggered an investigation by the NRC, as well as an in-house investigation by Entergy.
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