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NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State, left, and Mike Twomey, external affairs vice president for Entergy Wholesale Commodities, spoke at an informational meeting that preceded a Public Service Board hearing in Vernon on April 6.

Voices / Viewpoint

False choice

With both companies attempting to thwart the regulatory process, Entergy and NorthStar’s inherently weak and incomplete proposal demands scrutiny

Schuyler Gould is a retired building contractor and serves on the board of New England Coalition.

Brattleboro

New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC) is dedicated to protecting the environment from the dangers of nuclear radiation, particularly those associated with the nuclear-power industry. These dangers are well documented.

Entergy Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar, publicly traded corporation in charge of a fleet of 10 nuclear reactors, has proposed selling the shuttered Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, for the purpose of expedited decommissioning, to NorthStar Nuclear Decommissioning Company, LLC, a demolition company with no experience decommissioning commercial nuclear reactors.

What is most disconcerting about the current reviews by both the Vermont Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the proposed sale is the effort by both companies to thwart the regulatory process.

NorthStar first made an extraordinary effort to prevent any intervenors in front of the PUC, including the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS), the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), and the Vermont attorney general, with assistance from the Vermont Department of Health, from viewing, even under traditional court confidentiality procedures, internal documents critical to understanding the financial integrity of a business plan proposed by a limited liability corporation incorporated only last November, and whose assets in this enterprise would be only those in the Decommissioning Trust Fund. Its request to the commission to deny intervenor access to these documents was denied.

While very publicly touting its openness and candor and desire for a full public review of this sale, Entergy and NorthStar then vigorously challenged DPS’s, as well as NEC’s, right to intervene in the NRC’s review of this proposed license and ownership transfer. We await a decision in this regard.

In 2002 when Entergy bought the plant, it agreed that when it came time to decommission the plant, it would not rubblize one million cubic feet of concrete, blending contaminated with non-contaminated materials to “acceptable” levels, and bury it on the shores of the Connecticut River forever.

At the plant’s closing, Entergy, in its Dec. 23, 2013 Memorandum of Understanding with the state, confirmed that commitment.

However, in testimony before the PUC, NorthStar CEO Scott State states that “NorthStar will not adhere to prior Entergy commitments not to reuse rubblized concrete for site restoration.”

So, too, with Entergy’s commitment to further “characterize” the contaminant profile of the site before proceeding with any sale. This is of particular concern to ANR because without knowing the full extent of the contamination there, it is impossible to understand exactly how much money it will take to remediate it.

A recent announcement by Joe Lynch, Entergy’s senior government affairs manager, suggests this commitment is, well, not a commitment — that the analysis of the contamination will be done after the sale and not until decommissioning work is actually being done.

* * *

These and other commitments were made by Entergy in order to satisfy the state’s legitimate concerns regarding the short- and long-term hazards associated with decommissioning and the final disposition of the site, especially considering how close it is to two elementary schools in the area.

These commitments have been summarily tossed aside in NorthStar’s proposal with the implied threat from both companies that if they don’t get their way, they will walk away from the deal and Vernon will be left with a decaying, radioactive hulk for the next 50 years.

This is an interesting stance, particularly from Entergy, which has led us to believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the latter alternative.

Indeed, we were also led to believe by Entergy at the plant’s closing in 2014, the same year it began negotiations with NorthStar, that there would not be sufficient funds in the Decommissioning Trust Fund to begin the process until 2068.

But now that it wishes to divest itself of the uncertain liability that all decommissionings turn out to be, the company is perfectly willing to portray delayed decommissioning for what it is — a highly toxic threat to current and future generations.

* * *

New England Coalition is highly supportive of an early decommissioning and has been promoting such for years. Of late, in these pages and elsewhere, there have been numerous attacks on New England Coalition in particular (rarely any mention of the state of Vermont’s concerns).

These attacks suggest that NEC’s intervening in the regulatory process, as our organization has done since its founding in 1971, is unwarranted and threatens the prospects of the proposed sale and the timely decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

It should be noted that the Conservation Law Foundation as well has raised questions regarding the integrity of the proposed sale. The Elnu Abenaki have concerns regarding proposed excavations in what are traditional burial grounds, and NEC agrees with the tribe in calling for the site to be set aside as a nature preserve after decommissioning activities are complete.

The dichotomy portrayed by Entergy and NorthStar and its proxies — this deal, now or never — is a false one. Entergy itself has acknowledged that it negotiated with at least one other suitor for decommissioning, and NorthStar’s almost-paranoid concerns regarding its business plan — what it likes to call its “secret sauce” — indicate that there are others waiting in the wings, including those who have successfully decommissioned plants, ready to make their own proposals.

I suppose it might be considered a compliment that New England Coalition garners such respect, needing to be challenged at every turn. In fact, this is a well-orchestrated campaign to divert attention away from this inherently weak and incomplete proposal. The state of Vermont thinks it to be so, and so does New England Coalition.

If Entergy and NorthStar want this proposal to succeed, we suggest they openly address the many concerns expressed by all the intervenors in this process and commit to negotiating a settlement with terms agreeable to all the parties.

It is possible — it has been done before.

And if Entergy is confident that NorthStar has the chops to successfully complete the job to all applicable safety standards and on budget, it should have no reservations providing financial assurances guaranteeing a satisfactory outcome to this critical undertaking.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #427 (Wednesday, September 27, 2017). This story appeared on page D1.

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