Vt. Senate Decision Likely to Kill Vermont Yankee Relicensing and Entergy Spinoff

Last Wednesday, Vermont’s state Senate voted to disallow the operation of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant after its current license expires March 21, 2012. The plant would change ownership if Entergy were allowed to spin off a new company consisting of its merchant nuclear fleet. The likelihood of that happening now looks very dim.

Yesterday, in every Vermont town that included the plant’s relicensing on its nonbinding ballot, all but one voted against renewal, while one tabled the issue.

Vermont relies on the nuclear plant for about a third of its electricity generation. The 26-4 Senate decision was fueled not just by state residents’ anti-nuclear stance. The critical factor was Entergy employees’ lying about tritium leaks at the site.

The Vermont Public Service Board noted that “On January 25 and 26, respectively, [Conservation Law Foundation] and the New England Coalition (“NEC”) … filed requests for the Board to take further steps in response to the new information on underground piping [that Entergy VY had incorrectly said did not exist], as well as the recent discovery of tritium in monitoring wells surrounding Vermont Yankee. NEC and CLF also stated that this new information indicated that sworn testimony provided by Entergy VY witnesses to this Board was inaccurate.”

“At least five plant employees have been relieved of their duties, and a senior manager is accused of providing erroneous information to state officials,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has control over all nuclear plant safety issues, “the state negotiated a role for itself in 2006 as a condition for allowing Entergy to store spent fuel in dry casks at Vermont Yankee after the plant’s spent-fuel pool filled up,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

In 2006, Entergy submitted an application to renew the plant’s 40-year operating license for another 20 years.

Last Wednesday, NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko made a statement about the recent developments that read, in part: “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will issue a Demand For Information (DFI) to Entergy to determine what, if any, regulatory actions are necessary regarding the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. In accordance with our Enforcement Policy, the NRC staff will issue the DFI to Entergy to provide information under oath to allow us to make this determination. This step is being taken in response to Entergy’s investigation of their interactions with the State of Vermont.

“Earlier this month I told the Vermont Congressional delegation that the NRC would closely monitor the developments at Vermont Yankee. Once Entergy responds, the NRC will assess and independently verify the information provided to ascertain the implications on NRC-regulated safety activities and the impact on safety culture at the site. The NRC will determine whether it needs to take any further action.”

The Boston Globe reported that the plant had a radioactive leak years before the one found in January and that Entergy confirmed that claim to the NRC on Feb. 22.

On Monday, the Rutland (Vt.) Herald reported that the Vermont Department of Health confirmed that two cracked underground pipes at the plant were the source of the tritium that had contaminated groundwater wells at the site. “The health department said that tests on the advanced off-gas line pipe tunnel verified that the area when the tunnel means a drain line leaked.” The paper also noted that “A nuclear steam leak had been stopped on Feb. 14, along with a clogged drain in the tunnel. The two cracked pipes were discovered on Feb. 26.”

Yesterday, Michael McKinney of Entergy said the company is continuing to search for the source of the tritium leak.

Entergy has been working on spinning off a publicly traded nuclear company since 2007. Enexus Energy Corp. was chosen as the new name of the spinoff (originally planned for late 2008), and EquaGen LLC was to be the name of the new joint venture Entergy and Enexus would co-own and which would operate the six nuclear reactors to be spun off.

According to ABC news: “Earlier this month the New York commission staff recommended rejection of the spinoff, telling regulators that Entergy’s proposal is not in the public’s best interest, because the new company would be saddled with too much debt.”

The timing of the Vermont decision struck many observers as ironic. Just a week earlier, on Feb. 16, President Barack Obama had announced the first nuclear power plant construction loan guarantee for Plant Vogtle in Georgia.

Ed: Apologies for the wrong company in the original title.
Sources:, NRC, Boston Globe, New York Times, Reuters, ABC news, Enexus, The Wall Street Journal,

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