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March 21, 2011

NRC Issues New License to Vermont Yankee

Yankee * updated below *

Following through on its announcement less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission today officially issued a new, 20-year operating license to Entergy so it can keep Vermont Yankee running beyond March 2012.

The announcement on March 10 came one day before horrific events in Japan raised new questions about whether U.S. nuclear reactors could withstand multiple disasters.

Whether Entergy will keep the nearly 40-year-old plant open remains to be seen, given that to continue operation the company also needs a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board. Last year, the Vermont Senate — in a 26-4 vote — decided that keeping VY open beyond 2012 was not in the best interest of the state. As a result, the PSB has been unable to complete its review of Entergy's application before state regulators.

Today's NRC decision caps a review process that lasted more than five years.

Vermont's congressional delegation expressed its disappointment at the license renewal. The trio — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) — issued the following joint statement:

“It is hard to understand how the NRC could move forward with a license extension for Vermont Yankee at exactly the same time as a nuclear reactor of similar design is in partial meltdown in Japan. We believe that Entergy should respect and abide by Vermont’s laws and the MOU signed with the state in 2002, which require approval by the Vermont Legislature, and then the Vermont Public Service Board, for the plant to continue to operate beyond 2012.”

Last week Gov. Peter Shumlin reiterated his contention that Vermont Yankee shouldn't be relicensed — regardless of the events in Japan.

An NRC spokesman told Seven Days there was no reason to halt the VY application given the unfolding nuclear events in Japan.

"This application has been under review for more than five years, but the commission was clear that staff will continue to address matters related to VY's operation that had been underway before the events in Japan began," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC's Region 1 division, which oversees Vermont Yankee.

Entergy officials were, obviously, pleased by the ruling. But, they are giving no indication as to whether they will fight the state of Vermont in court to remain open beyond March 2012. Even though they have a federal license to operate, it remains an open question whether they can legally keep the plant running beyond 2012 without a state license.

"Entergy is pleased that the NRC issued the extension of the operating license for Vermont Yankee through March 21, 2032, as announced on March 10," said Entergy VY spokesman Larry Smith. "Today's action comes after five years of careful and extensive review and confirms that Vermont Yankee is a safe, reliable source of electricity and capable of operating for another 20 years."

In recent days, Sen. Sanders has called on the NRC to issue a moratorium on issuing new licenses until a full review of U.S. nuclear reactors is undertaken.

Sheehan said the NRC is conducting a review. He also noted that U.S. reactors similar to those at Fukushima Diiachi have had modifications made to them that make it less likely they would build up explosive stores of hydrogen. Hardened vents have been added to those containment vessels.

Still, Sheehan said, the NRC will continue to evaluate events in Japan and determine if further modifications, system designs and backup plans need to be put in place at U.S. reactors.

Sheehan said federal regulators this morning agreed to undertake two separate reviews of the events in Japan to determine if any changes need to be made to U.S. nuclear reactors. The first report will be completed in 30 days; the second in 90 days. Sheehan said the NRC's oversight is an ongoing process, and not one that reacts only to one incident. "Not everything is going to come to a screeching halt because of these tragic events," he said.

* Update: Gov. Peter Shumlin reacts to license extension *

Shortly after this story was posted, the office of Gov. Peter Shumlin issued this statement:

“In light of the on-going crisis at the 40-year-old Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan that has prompted other states and nations to review their nuclear power issues, today's decision by the NRC to issue an extension of Vermont Yankee's license is puzzling. Fortunately, Vermont has taken steps to close down the aging Yankee plant, and I have urged other states with older nuclear facilities to follow our example and take control of the lifespan of their plants.”

Your use of the term "reacts" to describe Shumlin's response to the NRC decision is funny.

Here's the translation of the response:

Dammit, I said shut it down! Damn NRC! Why don't they do what I say? I don't care if anybody thinks VY is safe! And I'm telling the other Governors that I want them to shut down THEIR plants, too, dammit!

The events in Japan and the situation in VT are completely unrelated. Attempting to link them is simply poor journalism. Try to think for yourself Shay instead of rewriting what they're saying on VPR.

Jenny, I don't know why you'd say that an 8.9 earthquake and a tsunami couldn't happen in Vernon, Vt. You seem to have no imagination or vision about this whole nuclear power/disaster thingy. You need to get on board with the herd and get with the fear-mongering program!

What do we want? Disaster! When do we want it? Now!

We have already paid the price for mining and destruction of over 40 first nation communities in Western Ontario and the dozens of communities in southwest 4 corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. I don't see any VT Yankee supporters willing to trade the birth defect or cancer rates in this communities. It's always easy when you have third-world people heating your house. Then there is the continual reactor problems and expansion of radioactivity in water and ground plus the casks that won't last the hundreds of thousands of years holding fuel on the banks of the CT River. Find me a nuclear engineer not under industry contract or lobbying contract who supports this plant, just one.

The NRC, predictably, issued a license to VY to keep going for another 20 years. They did so in spite of the fact that a near identical plant is melting down in Japan. They said VY was safe in spite of the fact that it has 640 tons of spent fuel in a pool that does not have a containment vessel; just like Unit 4 in Japan that is spewing radiation on its people. They issued a license in spite of the fact that those running the plant have lied under oath.

Germany, China and others are all shutting down their old reactors to give them a full safety inspection. The NRC opts to take Entergy's word for it.

@ Stannard:

You are wilfully ignoring reality for the sake of your romantic anti-VY rhetoric. The NRC has been reviewing VY for 5 years before it issued its relicensing decision. How is that "taking Entergy's word for it"? And taking Entergy's word for what, exactly? Your superior attitude is nothing but an insult to a lot of decent and honest engineers, scientists, and analysts who take their job seriously. Your're smarter and more honest than them all? You're smarter than President Obama?

@ Jenny:

Don't be unfair to Shay. After all, unlike Shumlin, for example, Shay is not a johnny-come-lately to VY bashing. He's been hating VY for years. At least he's consistent.

You'd think "Vermont's (allegedly) Independent Voice," however, might think it a good story to do a comparison of the former VY-friendly Shumlin vs. the new VY-hating Shumlin. I wonder how many of Shumlin's current idolizers in the hate-VY-koolaid crowd realize that he used to shill for VY as a legislator from Windham County? "Good constituent service," I believe he called it. The difference, of course, is that eventually the Democratic base in Vermont started to poll against VY. Shumlin, wanting to be Governor from the age of 3, changed his attitude. Coincidence? Sure thing.

And of course, compared to VY's alleged reputation for honesty and integrity, Shumlin's is . . . Oops. Nevermind that.

How soon we wilfully forget.

But of course 7D won't run that story, the story of the old vs. the new Shumlin, because that story wouldn't do anything to advance the campaign against VY. It would be a bothersome distraction from our goal. After all, this is all about achieving our goal of shutting VY down, not bothering with interesting but pesky political history.

Re: VPR, the piece that I heard pitted Arnie Gundersen against an Entergy rep. Gundersen got schooled so badly that his voice started shaking halfway through. It was kind of hard to listen to.

Actually, Gunderson represented himself very well on that VPR show. He made a lot of very valid points.

Folks should listen to the podcast at and decide for themselves.

Notice that Gunderson's detractors seem not to be able to argue with him on substance so they attack him in frivolous ways. They'll say that his voice was "shaking" instead of engaging in a discussion of the content of his words.

I don't have to "argue with him." Every last thing he said was summarily dismantled by the Entergy rep. It wasn't even a contest.

Shows how much clout our federal delegation has in !

Whether their clout is zero or a lot, our delegation in Washington should let the professional organization that is charged by statute with regulating nuclear power plants do its job, and stop attempting to interfere politically.

Last I checked, neither Leahy, Sanders, nor Welch were nuclear engineers.

Mark says :

" Find me a nuclear engineer not under industry contract or lobbying contract who supports this plant, just one. "

I say.... look at the ruling by the NRC. Do you think that no one at the NRC is a nuclear engineer?

Stannard says :

" They issued a license in spite of the fact that those running the plant have lied under oath."

What does the PLANT BEING SAFE have to do with someone at Entergy saying there were not any underground pipes and subsequently being removed from his position.

BTW, it sounds as if you would support VY if it were sold to someone other then Entergy

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