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Voices / Letters from readers

Let’s make NorthStar work

The author is the communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (vtep.org), a coalition of Vermont businesses, individuals, and trade and development organizations supporting clean, safe, affordable, reliable power. Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.

RE: “Anti-nuclear group doubts Vermont Yankee cleanup plan” [News, Jul. 12]:

It is clear the New England Coalition, a longtime antagonist of nuclear power, is skeptical of NorthStar’s ability to decommission Vermont Yankee safely and on budget.

An NEC spokesperson is quoted as decrying NorthStar’s supposedly “untested method of managing decommissioning under new and unanalyzed circumstances.”

Yet there is nothing technologically new or experimental about this plan. The applied science is all established and in regular use, and it has been proven both safe and economically successful.

The only novel aspects of the plan — all related to budgeting and organization — are being scrutinized by the Vermont Public Utility Commission and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Both review processes are expected to last well into 2018. In addition to protections such as performance bonds, $125 million in insurance, and contingency budgeting, there is a $73 million surplus-over-budget in the decommissioning trust fund.

Much has been made of the fact that NorthStar is hesitant to release documents containing proprietary trade secrets. However, NorthStar has released thousands of pages of detailed financial planning and disclosure — anyone can read them by searching Docket 8880 on ePUC. Even the small number of publicly withheld documents may be reviewed by all official parties in the Vermont PUC docket.

What’s really happening here is that NorthStar has built a better mousetrap. Its plan represents a major improvement of the industry standard for prompt, safe nuclear decommissioning.

If the NorthStar plan happens to makes the future of the nuclear power industry more viable, no wonder antinuclear groups like NEC are concerned.

The regulatory review process is designed to thoroughly assess financial viability, environmental impact, and nuclear safety. Regulators must determine whether NEC’s concerns merit a substantial revision in the NorthStar plan and where prudent caution ends and unnecessarily harmful delay begins.

Such delay could be harmful to both the environment and the economy. Saying no to NorthStar means lost economic opportunity and delaying decommissioning by more than 50 years. It means that aside from spent fuel in dry-cask storage, whatever harmful substances are there won’t be promptly removed but will remain onsite for at least a half century.

And it means that Windham County will lose the immediate economic impact of the decommissioning itself and the likely redevelopment of the well-positioned Vermont Yankee site.

In short, no NorthStar means less environmental and economic certainty for Windham County.

NorthStar views this job as a showpiece for future nuclear decommissioning work. The company simply has not come to Vermont to fail.

Last month, I attended a press conference in Montpelier at which Governor Phil Scott was asked about the NorthStar plan. The governor replied, “We need to make sure they have the financial resources, but in the end, if we can make it work, it will be beneficial for all Vermont.”

Indeed. Let’s let this process work.

Guy Page
Berlin

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Originally published in The Commons issue #418 (Wednesday, July 26, 2017).

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