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March 11, 2011

NRC to Issue New License to Vermont Yankee

VY Well, there is joy in Mudville: Despite years of repeated bad news, including cooling water tower collapses, tritium leaks, steam leaks and other mishaps, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Thursday to end the five-plus-year legal proceeding regarding renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, and will grant the reactor a new, 20-year license.

In a statement, the NRC said its staff expects to issue the renewed license soon; the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.

“This is the final step in the NRC’s detailed technical and legal process of examining whether it’s appropriate to issue a renewed license,” said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. “Since there are other approval processes outside the NRC, we’ll continue to ensure Vermont Yankee is meeting the appropriate public health and safety standards regardless of the reactor’s ultimate status.”

The commission voted unanimously, 4-0, to extend the license.

Commissioner George Apostolakis recused himself because of his prior service on the ACRS (Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards), which recommended renewal of the Vermont Yankee license some time ago, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

The decision to renew the license comes after the NRC staff’s thorough and extensive safety and environmental reviews of the application, submitted Jan. 27, 2006, by the plant’s operator, Entergy Nuclear Operations. The application and the staff reviews were also examined by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an independent body of nuclear safety experts that advises the NRC. The application was also the subject of an adjudicatory hearing by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), a quasi-judicial arm of the NRC that handles licensing matters.

A last-minute appeal by the New England Coalition to halt the issuance of a new license until some of Entergy's filings from the past three months could be reviewed was rejected by the NRC.

Jeffrey Wimette, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents close to 200 employees at Vermont Yankee, was pleased with the ruling.

“As the chief regulator for all American nuclear power plants, the NRC has an excellent record for safety and environmental protection. Its relicensing process has been long and thorough," said Wimette. “The IBEW hopes that today’s announcement will prompt Vermont utilities and Vermont Yankee plant owner Entergy to finalize a power contract for the duration of the 20-year license. We also urge state officials to support the plant’s continued operation. The IBEW stands ready to cooperate in any way to keep the hundreds of Vermont Yankee employees on the job delivering reliable low-cost, low-carbon power to Vermont homes and businesses.”

Vermont's congressional delegation, however, was not as pleased with the ruling. They issued the following joint statement: “It should surprise no one that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to extend Vermont Yankee’s license for another 20 years. The NRC has never denied a nuclear plant an extension, and in fact has granted 62 straight license extensions. We believe that Entergy should respect and abide by Vermont’s laws, which require approval from the Vermont Legislature, and then the Vermont Public Service Board, for the plant to continue to operate beyond 2012.”

Last month, Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard said he was hopeful that the company would have a renewed NRC license and a power deal with Vermont utilities by mid-year. He also said a power deal with Vermont utilities was not necessary to gain complete relicensure, and hinted that the company could take the state to court.

Still holding up Yankee's effort to run beyond March 2012, however, is a state license to operate. The Vermont Senate — led by now Gov. Peter Shumlin — voted last year to thwart the Vermont Public Service Board from completing its review of the renewal application. Senators voted 26-4 against allowing the application to be reviewed, saying it was a bad deal for Vermonters.

In response to the NRC ruling, Shumlin said he still believes VY should be closed in 2012.

“Today’s vote from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not unexpected, and does not change the fact that Vermont Yankee still needs approval from the state to continue operating beyond its 2012 license expiration," said Shumlin in a statement. "I am pleased that the NRC is reaffirming Vermont’s authority to determine the plant’s future. Given the serious radioactive tritium leaks and the recent tritium test results, the source of which has yet to be determined, and other almost weekly problems occurring at this facility, I remain convinced that it is not in the public good for the plant to remain open beyond its scheduled closing in 2012.”

Now all that's left is for Entergy to file with court and shut out VT power companies. If VT doesn't want their power they may as well sell ALL of it out of state.

Before you start rejoicing too much, JCarter, you should also read the part of what NRC Jaczko said that this article didn't quote. From the Rutland Herald:

"Jaczko also said the NRC had no intention of getting involved in the power
struggle between Vermont and Entergy Nuclear, owner of Vermont Yankee.

The Vermont Legislature has blocked the Vermont Public Service Board from
acting on any permit.

Jaczko said it was up to Entergy to get all the permits it needed to
continue operating, including the state's certificate of public good. He
said the company had met the NRC's standards.

He told reporters he had seen no action by the state that would trigger the
need for the NRC to intervene in the state's review process.

Federal regulators are solely responsible for nuclear safety issues, the
so-called federal pre-emption. Vermont state regulators have to limit their
concerns to economic, environmental or reliability issues."

As they have made clear in the past, the NRC does NOT believe that its decision preempts Vermont's; these are two separate tracks.

John Greenberg, that's an interesting quote but largely irrelevant. So the NRC isn't going to get involved past issuing the license, what else were they going to do? Last time I checked they were privy to decide lawsuits. The courts will, the NRC has done their job and outside of testifying there is nothing more anyone would expect...

As for the pre-emption I'm not getting into that with you. We clearly have differing views and different opinions. I will just agree to disagree and let Entergy file it's lawsuit. One of us will be right and one of us will be wrong. C'est la vie.

JCarter asks: "what else were they going to do?" If the NRC thinks a State has intruded on preempted territory, it can sue to protect its jurisdiction. Clearly, in this case, it doesn't think so and won't.

Why should the NRC sue if they know Entergy is going to...

I don't get it. If the plant was built for a specific life-span only, what, all of a sudden, makes it safe and viable to run another 20 years? Especially in light of all the problems (some unreported, if I remember correctly), I don't feel safe at all with allowing it to continue past it's expiration date.


It actually wasn't built for a specific life span. Typically nuclear plants are given a 30-40 year lifespan. This lifespan is a bit of a misnomer as it used for the financial depreciation of the investment in the plant. All parts of the plant can be replaced as they age, like the tires on your car. Just because the tires wear out doesn't mean you buy a new car. You replace them and keep driving. The same thing applies here. There is one piece that isn't replaceable, the reactor vessel. As such ultimately the "lifespan" of a nuclear power plant is exactly as long as the lifespan of the reactor vessel. The reactor vessel is monitored, and is usable as long as it is safe.

Simply put, the life span of a nuclear power plant isn't a fixed number of years.

Yeah, except your tires don't cost several million dollars and Entergy doesn't seem to be in any great hurry to replace the aging parts as evidenced by those awesome pictures of a well maintained cooling tower collapsing and our weekly "drip, drip, drip" dispatch from Vernon. Other than that, spot on analogy.

"I don't feel safe at all with allowing it to continue past it's expiration date."

And you're a nuclear engineer? Or are your feelings just that, "feelings"?

OK Neil, perhaps the oil leak from your car would be a more appropriate analogy. It's there, the mechanic can't quite figure out where it's coming from and it really isn't a big issue so you keep plugging away trying to figure out and pay attention to the bigger picture.

As for the cooling tower, you are right they created a spectacular picture. That's about it, other then giving fodder for the anti-nuke crowd.

JCarter asks: "Why should the NRC sue if they know Entergy is going to..."

Well, first of all, unless JCarter is privy to non-public knowledge, NRC does NOT "know" ant such thing. To my knowledge, Entergy has never said that it will sue. (I'm sure critics will be all over me if I'm wrong!)

Indeed, quite to the contrary, what Entergy DID say, back in 2002 when they bought the plant, is that they would NOT sue over this issue. Quoting from the 2002 MOU: ""12. Board Approval of Operating License Renewal: The signatories to this MOU agree that any order issued by the Board granting approval of the sale of VYNPS to ENVY and any Certificate of Public Good ("CPG") issued by the Board to ENVY and ENO will authorize operation of the VYNPS only until March 21, 2012 and thereafter will authorize ENVY and ENO only to decommission the VYNPS. Any such Board order approving the sale shall be so conditioned, and any Board order issuing a CPG to ENVY and ENO shall provide that operation of VYNPS beyond March 21, 2012 shall be allowed only if application for renewal of authority under the CPG to operate the VYNPS is made and granted. Each of VYNPC, CVPS, GMP, ENVY and ENO expressly and irrevocably agrees: (a) that the Board has jurisdiction under current law to grant or deny approval of operation of the VYNPS beyond March 21, 2012 and (b) to waive any claim each may have that federal law preempts the jurisdiction of the Board to take the actions and impose the conditions agreed upon in this paragraph to renew, amend or extend the ENVY CPG and ENO CPG to allow operation of the VYNPS after March 21, 2012, or to decline to so renew, amend or extend."

Finally, is this the same JCarter who just one month ago predicted confidently, in these very pages: "The NRC will claim jurisdiction which they have ..."? I guess chairman Jazcko forgot to consult JCarter before issuing his statement.

@ Greenberg:

Isn't it true that in the very same 2002 MOU you cite (which I believe was negotiated and approved by the Dean Administration), the State agreed to the Safestore method of decomissioning? Gov. Double-Standard is now saying the State shouldn't be bound by THAT provision.

If you want to enforce Clause 12, then I assume you will happily agree to Safestore, right?

An agreement is an agreement, right?

"Steve-O" asks me whether SAFESTOR is part of the MOU. Yes, it is, albeit in a rather vague way. Specifically, section 9 of the MOU says: "At the time of the site-specific study referred to in Section 6, ENVY will demonstrate that funding will be sufficient to accomplish decommissioning, including site restoration and spent fuel management committed to in this docket. It is agreed such demonstration may include the implementation of SAFESTOR or other forms of delayed decommissioning."

I never said that I "want to enforce Clause 12;" I said that Entergy agreed to it. In any case, I certainly don't expect anyone to ask my opinion before deciding what to enforce!

I assume "Steve-O"'s point is that, despite the governor's recent statements, the State will be hard pressed to unilaterally escape from this agreement. On that point, I would agree with him. The option of negotiating a new deal on decommissioning does remain at least a theoretical possibility however, as does finding ways to make SAFESTOR less inviting (or alternative options more inviting) for Entergy.

Safestor might not be necessary if the plant can operate another 20 years and thereby build up the decommissioning fund out of operating revenues without having to wait for investment buildup, as it will now.

A provision requiring VY to devote x number of dollars per year to the decomissioning fund could be part of a new deal with the State for allowing the plant to continue operating while selling electricity to Vermont utilities and allowing time for renewables to become more viable.

But of course that would not work for a governor who wants to have VY as a nice target, as the focus of his very calculated political hatred.

BTW, aren't you the one who was going on and on about two biomass plants being in the works in VT? Maybe you noticed in today's Free Press that the developer has dropped one of the projects -- because of local opposition. As I predicted, NIMBYism rules. I win.

Here's our take.

We bet Nosty will predict correctly. Here's what will most likely happen.

1. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will give thumbs up to E-LA/VY, 'cuz that's what they do with nuke plants ready for relicensure - 63 times in a row, to be exact.
2. The feds will then step out of the way, letting Peter (Shumdog Millionaire) Shumlin, the Vermont Legislature, and E-LA duke it out, probably in court.
Even if Vermont wins litigation, it will have taken years and during that time E-LA will have produced and sold mucho power, because they have the license, willing purchasers, and millions of bucks for more than one appeal. One official even predicts that the legal process will take up to half of time of the renewed license period.
If Vermont loses, there's an appeal, and E-LA cruises to victory, making good revenue and avoiding protesters, living in LA. Louisiana, that is.
3. Shumdog Millionaire comes out of this smelling sweet, for he fought the good fight, energizing the base, against Entergy Louisiana, probably knowing how it would play out.

The absolute worst case scenario for Shumlin and the VY-haters is that the VT taxpayers spend millions of dollars on a lawsuit, VY gets to keep operating, and meanwhile VT hasn't negotiated a deal for any of the electicity.

Right now that scenario is looking pretty likely.

Congratulations, Vermont.


I don't know what your deal is but you need to calm down dude, you are a pretty smart guy but you seem to selectively ignore a lot of things. You say, rather smart alecy, that I must be privy to private info ....

From this very private article about 4 weeks ago

"If the legislature elected to shut down the plant, “It would probably be challenged in federal court and would most likely be considered a federal preemption matter,” said Neil Sheehan, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman. "

I submit that the NRC while can't be 100% positive fully expects it to go to court, in complaint from Entergy LA.

As for the "haha you were wrong post", I think that tritiate water is getting to you if you expected the NRC to just issue a statement saying... VT has no claim. In a court hearing the NRC will likely testify it is their decision, one that they have made.

"JCarter" provides a quote from NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan that I don't remember seeing. It was published in 7 Days ( over a year ago (2/17/10) BEFORE the Senate voted, not as he or she says "about 4 weeks ago." But JCarter is never one to let the facts get in his or her way.

In any case, the quote doesn't respond to my comment. Sheehan says -- as have many sources -- that the decision "would probably be challenged," not that it WILL be challenged. JCarter also ignores what Energy said in the very same article: "Has Entergy actually threatened to sue? Would it take Vermont to court if the state legislature denied VY’s chance at a license to operate for another 20 years? Entergy won’t say.

“That’s really too hypothetical to address at this point,” said Entergy VY spokesman Rob Williams."

Finally, Chairman Jaczko's statement, which acknowledges state responsibility for non-safety issues at nuclear plants, speaks for itself and directly contradicts Professor Cheryl Hanna's statements in the 7 Days article in which Sheehan is quoted.

"Steve-O" writes: "The absolute worst case scenario for Shumlin and the VY-haters is that the VT taxpayers spend millions of dollars on a lawsuit, VY gets to keep operating, and meanwhile VT hasn't negotiated a deal for any of the electicity."

This is nonsense. Entergy's contract offer to Vermont utilities was priced very slightly ABOVE current market price expectations. So ASSUMING VY gets to keep operating (which is NOT at all obvious), then if Vermont utilities need power, they can buy exactly as much as they need in the market at a slightly lower price than VY offered. How is this an "absolute worst case scenario?"

Finally, "Steve-O," I acknowledge that, on Feb. 14, I did write: "Webber also tells us "Nobody's building a biomass plant in Vermont," which will come as shocking news to the Beaver Woods folks who are currently seeking permits for two of them." If that's "going on and on about two biomass plants," I plead guilty.

I also note that, on March 10, the developer announced that it had decided to delay (not cancel) its permit request for one of them several weeks after I wrote that.

Unlike Nostradamus and his pro-VY colleagues above, I am perfectly happy to acknowledge publicly that I am NOT clairvoyant: I did not foresee Beaver Wood's decision, nor do I foresee Entergy's as they're quite sure they do.

"How is this an "absolute worst case scenario?""

I believe utilities and investors would tell you that negotiating long-term power contracts is better than taking your chances on the spot market. And foregoing the opportunity to negotiate a long-term contract with a plant that's within your borders is better than buying power on the spot market from out-of-state plants that burn coal and oil and that you have no control over??? And is it better from a reliability perspective???

The only long-terms contracts I've heard about are with HQ, and that's only for a portion of the state's requirements. Otherwise, we're at the mercy of power importation from fossil fuel burning plants to our south and west and bringing in that power on a possibly unreliable southern transmission connection we don't control.

Moreover, it appears that there is some concern as to whether the VT transmission lines are sufficiently rigorous to handle the importation of the power VT is expected to consume.

Why not just negotiate a deal with Entergy?

Fact is, I was right about nobody building any biomass plants in VT and you were wrong. (And by the way, "applying for permits" isn't "building a plant". If Vermont is serious about shutting down VY in 2012, it should have been incentivizing the building of baseload power plants in VT 10 years ago.) And it's not because I'm clairvoyant. It didn't take either clairvoyance or rocket science to know that the biomass plants may never be built. All I have to look at is history and not be a wilfully blind dunce: Vermonters oppose EVERY project. Every one. Whether it's a power plant or the neighbor's wind turbine. End of story. And in VT we give the average local paranoid wacko every procedural opportunity to delay and kill projects. No power plants, and so far even very few wind turbines. Anyone who thinks we're going to replace anything close to the 300 MW of always-on electricity we currently get from VY with any new always-on power produced in-state, under our current zoning and permitting procedures, is simply a fool. Or intentionally lying to us to justify their desired closure of VY.

The courts will decide. The trolls on this board will just keep yelling at each other, because they can't actually do anything about it because they are just anonymous voices behind online avatars. Go VY!

"Steve-O," who apparently also appears in 7 Day comment columns as "Webber" says: "Why not just negotiate a deal with Entergy?" The utilities have been doing just that for several years now. The offer Entergy released to the PSB in December, 2009 (via a letter from Jay Thayer misdated December 18, 2008) came after negotiations had failed and the Board's second deadline had come and gone. Press reports often state that negotiations are STILL ongoing, over a year later.

In the scenario "Steve-O" presented, transmission (which is really a non-issue as far as VY is concerned anyway) is a complete red herring: according to the hypothesis presented for the scenario, VY would be operating. Electrons don't care about contracts. For the same reason, much of the power in Vermont would be coming from Vermont Yankee, not from "out-of-state plants that burn coal and oil."

Steve-O also claims to be right about the biomass plant. Beaver Wood may or may not ever receive a permit (I certainly never suggested they would), but the company IS trying to build 2 biomass plants in Vermont. The way any developer does this is to apply for permits.

As of February 14, they had applied for permits for two plants. If this is "Steve-O"'s idea of "nobody building," so be it. Readers can decide for themselves whose statements were accurate and whose not.

As to "Jenny"'s comments, I would merely note that the courts will only "decide" if the case is presented to them. We'll see if that occurs. Additionally, unlike the rest of the anonymous, pseudonymous crew here, I am not an "avatar." I am a real flesh and blood human being writing under my own name.

""JCarter" provides a quote from NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan that I don't remember seeing. It was published in 7 Days ( over a year ago (2/17/10) BEFORE the Senate voted, not as he or she says "about 4 weeks ago." But JCarter is never one to let the facts get in his or her way.'

Greenberg, this is my last post because dialogue with you is absolutely pointless. I was wrong on the date, my mistake. I'm so terribly sorry that I missed the 2010 and mistook if for 2011.

Regardless, as you say don't let the facts get in the way.... I mistook the date. The point is still valid, which is why you chose to make a huge deal out of the date. When you can't respond to the statement, argue semantics/spelling/typos or mistakes. You are an ace at that.

Anyone who would like to have a back and forth dialogue that is mostly on topic let me know. Greenberg.... good day.


which part of "John Greenberg" do you consider anonymous? I don't suppose you could figure out what my name is from J.Carter?

Gee, I hate to interrupt private bickering, but amid all the vituperation and bluster, it sounds like no one takes seriously the NRC statement that a Vermont certificate of public good and license to operate are necessary for VY to continue operation, that NRC relicensure is limited to consideration of safety, that state relicensure may not consider safety. Therefore, if Vermont (meaning the legislature and PSB) say no on any grounds other than safety, the NRC considers that decision outside its jurisdiction and binding.

Of course Entergy can sue the state for a license to operate, but if the state follows its own guidelines and doesn't infringe on federal prerogatives, is there any reason to think Entergy would have the slightest chance in court? Is there some reason to think they would be allowed to operate without a license or keep any revenue collected while operating without a license? The confidence in prognostication here is impressive but does anyone actually know Entergy wouldn't look down the road at forfeiture of earnings, legal expenses for quite possibly both sides, and even more hostility and impatience with its duplicity than now exists in Montpelier and read the writing on the wall? If a doctor's license to practice is revoked for cause and he/she goes on practicing while suing, is there a legal leg to stand on or any financial gain likely to be retained? Corporations can't be arrested and jailed but they're no less subject to license requirements. If Vermont has the authority to shut down VY when its license expires, what's all this blah-blah about who will do what next, speculating whether the state will let this corporation intimidate it or courts will let it bamboozle them with frivolous lawsuits and appeals. Instead of pronouncing what we hope happens in terms that sound like we know what will happen, does anyone have any evidence that defying the Vermont legislature, operating without a license, would be anything but ruinous for Entergy? We've had plenty of opinions; does anyone have any evidence?

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