"Testimony split on renewing license for Vermont Yankee"
By Neal P. Goswami, Bennington Banner
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Vermonters from around the state voiced both support and concern over the relicensing of Vermont Yankee during a public hearing hosted on interactive television at 15 sites across Vermont.
Vermont Yankee, a boiling water reactor-type nuclear power plant in Vernon, owned by Entergy Nuclear, is set to close down in 2012. But its owners are seeking a new license to operate the plant for an additional 20 years. It began operating in 1972, and now produces about a third of the state's electricity.
The debate over whether the plant should be allowed to continue operations beyond 2012 has intensified with recent mishaps occurring at the plant. The most prominent mishap was the collapse of a cooling tower in August 2007.
The interactive hearing Monday was the second public hearing hosted by the board, according to Chairman James Volz. Vernon was the site of a hearing last week, and Volz said Monday that at least one more hearing would be held in the Brattleboro area. The board is a quasi-judicial group charged with making decisions impacting public utilities.
The testimony heard by the board Monday was split, with some in favor of closing the plant down and others hoping to see the plant relicensed.
Robin Conley, of Northfield, Mass., said she was strongly opposed to extending the life of the Vermont Yankee because she lives just five miles "downstream" from the plant. She said the majority of residents in her town agree with her, and voted at a town meeting in May against relicensing.
But Patricia Hengel, whose husband is employed at the plant, said it is a benefit to the community, and should be granted a new license.
"I support the relicensing of Vermont Yankee as a source of clean energy," she said.
She argued that the plant has attracted many new people to the area who have become involved members of the community, serving on public boards and volunteering.
Without the plant, hundreds of people would not have jobs or have moved to Vermont, she said.
But Ed Lincoln, who spoke in Randolph Center, said the closure of Vermont Yankee would lead to "enormous job creation" as new alternative energy sources are brought online. He said that must be weighed against the set number of jobs at the nuclear power plant.
Two students at Johnson State College pleaded with the board to nix the relicensing bid by Entergy. They said their generation would be saddled with the burden of dealing with nuclear waste and the cleanup of any major disaster that may occur during the next 20 years.
Another Vermont resident, Jon Day, disagreed, saying the plant was the state's best -- and cheapest -- source of power.
"Vermont Yankee is our most important source of baseload power," he said. "It would be irresponsible to close it down."
While Volz and other members listened to testimony about safety concerns at the plant, he said the PSB's decision will not be affected by safety concerns. The Nuclear Regulator Commission is charged with ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants.
"Mountain of Trouble: Mr. Obama defunds the nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain. Now what?"
The Washington Post, Editorial, A18, Sunday, March 8, 2009
BY STRIPPING the funding for the nuclear repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, President Obama has succeeded in killing the contentious project that remains unfinished 22 years after Congress selected the site. He compounds the error by not offering an alternative. If the president's vision for a clean energy future is to be believed or is to come to fruition, nuclear energy must be a part of the mix, and the safe disposal of its radioactive waste must be given more serious consideration.
The project has burned through $7.7 billion. It was supposed to start accepting spent material from the nation's operating nuclear reactors (now numbering 104) in 1998. Our longstanding support of the Yucca Mountain facility has been grounded in the belief that the center of a desert mountain 1,000 feet underground and more than 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas was an appropriate place for the nation's nuclear waste. Instead, storage is spread over 121 above-ground sites located within 75 miles of more than 161 million people in 39 states.
There's more than a modicum of politics at play in Mr. Obama's decision. The president keeps a campaign promise to shut the site down. By doing so, he pleases Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). And he potentially secures the swing state's place in the blue column; the Silver State hadn't voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 1996 until it went to Mr. Obama in 2008. That's not to belittle the concerns of Nevadans. There have been worries about radioactive seepage into groundwater. But scientists have long maintained that corrosion wouldn't threaten the integrity of the storage containers for at least 10,000 years.
Now that the Yucca Mountain project is dead the obvious question is: Now what? As a senator in 2007, Mr. Obama suggested in a letter to Mr. Reid and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, "finding another state willing to serve as a permanent national repository . . . ." He also called for redirecting resources to improve the safety and security at plants around the country until a long-term solution is found. Those alternatives, however unlikely the first one is, are more than he offered when he cut off Yucca Mountain's funding.
In the coming weeks, Energy Secretary Steven Chu will announce plans for a meeting with key stakeholders to discuss nuclear waste storage. A report is expected within a year of the meeting. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the dry cask storage of nuclear waste currently employed is a safe short-term solution. Thankfully, "short-term" in this case is defined in decades. But until the Obama administration comes up with a real alternative, the president's promises that nuclear power will be a part of our clean energy future will remain unkept.
"Vermont Yankee plans emergency siren tests"
boston.com - May 3, 2009
MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Sirens in the Vermont Yankee's emergency planning zone will sound this Tuesday -- Wednesday is the rain date -- as part of a regular test of the emergency notification system surrounding the Vernon reactor.
The test will sound all 37 sirens in the Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts towns surrounding the plant, including 16 new sirens recently added to the system.
Residents in the area are sent emergency planning materials once a year that advise them to tune to specific radio stations for further instruction when hearing the sirens.
The sirens will generally sound for three minutes sometime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Extra testing will be conducted in Chesterfield, N.H., to check the loudness of recently installed sirens.
"Vermont Senate votes to close nuke plant in 2012"
By Dave Gram, Associated Press Writer, February 24, 2010
MONTPELIER, Vt. --The Vermont Senate voted Wednesday to block the state's only nuclear plant from operating after its license expires in 2012, at least a temporary setback for nuclear power only a week after President Barack Obama announced loan guarantees for building two reactors in Georgia.
Vermont is the only state in the country with a law giving its legislature a say over a nuclear plant's relicensing. The Senate's 26-4 vote against a 20-year extension of Vermont Yankee's license marks the first time lawmakers have formally weighed in on the question.
With the Vernon reactor leaking radioactive tritium into groundwater and its owners accused of misleading state regulators about underground piping at the plant, even senators who might have supported the license extension said they would have a difficult time doing so now.
"If the board of directors and management were infiltrated by anti-nuclear activists, I do not believe they could have done a better job destroying their own case," said Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, who had supported an amendment calling for building a new reactor in Vernon before he voted against the extension.
Wednesday's vote came after 3 1/2 hours of debate in a Senate chamber whose edges and balcony -- along with two large hearing rooms equipped with live links -- were jammed mostly with anti-nuclear activists hungry for a victory at a time when President Barack Obama has called for a resurgence of fission reactors as a source of electric power for the country.
Obama announced last week he was making about $8 billion in federal loan guarantees available for a facility envisioned for Burke County, Ga., which would be the first new U.S. nuclear power plant in nearly three decades. He said investing in nuclear energy is a "necessary step" toward reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Vermont Yankee and its owner, New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., were defiant after Wednesday's the vote.
"The effort to win a 20-year renewal of Vermont Yankee's operating license is far from over," company spokesman Larry Smith said in a statement. "We remain determined to prove our case to the Legislature, state officials and the Vermont public."
Entergy's shares fell 67 cents, or less than one percent, to close Wednesday at $76.33.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, whose Windham County district includes Vermont Yankee, summed up what he said was the case against the plant.
"Vermonters deserve better than an aging, unreliable nuclear power plant owned by an untrustworthy out-of-state corporation," said Shumlin, a Democratic candidate for governor.
The vote brought complaints from the administration of Gov. James Douglas, Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. and its supporters that senators were engaged in a rush to judgment and a political attack on an operation weakened by news of its tritium leaks and misstatements.
Afterward, Douglas said the vote may not have much impact. If the state ends up with a more nuclear-friendly legislature after the November elections, lawmakers next year could reverse Wednesday's action.
"This vote in the Senate and all of the debate and the consideration over the past few weeks is little more than theater," the governor said.
Douglas, a Vermont Yankee supporter who has vetoed other bills the plant didn't like, won't get a chance to veto this one.
In order to become law, a bill must clear both the House and Senate and then be signed into law by the governor. A 2006 state law -- signed by Douglas -- contained a provision requiring an affirmative vote by both the House and Senate before state utility regulators would be allowed to issue the certificate of public good Vermont Yankee needs to operate past 2012.
The Senate's negative vote prevents the bill from being considered by the House -- where its prospects would have been uncertain at best -- and means Douglas won't see it.
The House could craft its own bill, but wouldn't bother if the intent were to support continued operation of Vermont Yankee, said Rep. Floyd Nease, D-Johnson, the majority leader. Nease said any such measure surely would die in the Senate.
"For the first time in my eight years here, I'm glad there's a Senate," Nease said with a smile.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Leaking credibility, Vt. Yankee must step up or face closure"
February 26, 2010
THIS IS how bad things have gotten with the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant: In the depths of the worst economy in decades, the Vermont Senate has voted overwhelmingly to close the plant, forfeiting $9 million in tax revenues, 650 jobs, and its relatively cheap - and carbon-free - electricity. If the plant’s owner cannot solve the problems that prompted the vote, the lawmakers will be justified in going through with the closedown in 2012.
That 26-4 vote by the state Senate Wednesday should be like a control-room alarm siren to the nuclear industry as it tries both to extend the operating licenses of old plants like Vermont’s and build new ones with taxpayer-backed loan guarantees. If nuclear plants really are to replace coal units, the worst producers of greenhouse gases, as the baseload choice of the future, their builders and operators have to mind their p’s and q’s.
They haven’t in Vermont. The 625-megawatt plant (about half as big as the one in Seabrook, N.H.) has been plagued by leaks of radioactive tritium. Almost worse, officials at Entergy, the plant’s owner, twice told state officials falsely that there were no underground pipes at the plant that could leak tritium. So far, none of the tritium has turned up in drinking water or the nearby Connecticut River, but the damage to the plant’s reputation has been severe.
Entergy says in its eight years of ownership it has saved Vermonters more than $300 million with power cheaper than what alternative sources, such as gas-fired units, could provide. But Vermonters are not without other choices if Entergy fails to regain legislators’ confidence before 2012 - and they would be in even better shape if the state had focused more on efficiency improvements, such as weatherized homes and better dairy pumps. The plant supplies just 1 percent of the power in the New England, New York, and Quebec region. With luck, Entergy will solve Vermont Yankee’s problems and be in a position to reverse this week’s vote. But if it doesn’t, the lights will not go out in Montpelier.
"Yankee: We didn't mislead intentionally"
By Bob Audette, New England Newspapers (The North Adams Transcript) 4/24/2010
MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power say their representatives never intentionally misled the state about the presence of underground piping that can carry radioactive material underneath the plant in Vernon.
In a 114-page report filed Thursday, Entergy Corp. said its agents and representatives gave incomplete answers to questions by the state Public Service Board and should have corrected them later, but they never tried to deceive.
The report blames the misstatements, in part, on differing interpretations of "underground piping" -- that is, pipes carrying radioactive material that were in contact with soil as opposed to those carrying the material that were underground but contained within trenches.
But Vermont's top regulator, Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien, criticized the report as self-serving and full of factual errors and contradictions.
"It strikes me that this report is more about trying to prove a desired conclusion, which is that no one intentionally misled state regulators, instead of an investigation that would have brought all of the transparency to the situation that we would have hoped," O'Brien said.
State officials and a contractor working for the state at Vermont Yankee were told in 2008 and 2009 that the plant didn't have the kind of underground piping that could carry tritium or other radioactive substances.
But the plant does. In January, plant officials announced that tritium had been found in a groundwater monitoring well at the plant. Five days later, it was revealed that plant officials had falsely said such pipes didn't exist at Vermont Yankee.
The revelation, which came as the state weighed Entergy's bid for a 20-year extension of the nuclear plant's operating license, drew irate reactions from state officials and environmental advocates and a stern rebuke by Gov. Jim Douglas, a Vermont Yankee supporter.
The report filed Thursday on behalf of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. gave the results of a probe by hired law firm Morgan Lewis, of Washington, D.C.
The firm reviewed more than 65,000 documents and interviewed 29 people, according to the report. The only person sought but unavailable was former Entergy in-house counsel Kim Bykov, whom the report said was being diligently pursued for questioning through her attorney.
It said that in May 2009, testimony before the Public Service Board, Entergy Nuclear Vice President Jay Thayer didn't mean to give misleading information, and that others in the company identified the discrepancies but failed to correct or clarify them.
"It's evident in reading the report that people recognized within Entergy that there was something wrong with Mr. Thayer's testimony," O'Brien said. "There was a lot of conversation among the players at Entergy in between, but yet the record was not corrected."
Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive who now works as a consultant to Vermont lawmakers on Vermont Yankee issues, dismissed the report's conclusion.
He said Vermont Yankee officials knew as early as August 2009 that misrepresentations had been made about the piping issue, but no attempt was made to correct them.
Of the report, he said: "They cherry-picked the data to support the conclusion they needed to reach. They went in knowing the answer. ... The report selectively chooses snippets and ignores anything on the record that disagrees with it."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
- Jonathan Melle
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