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Spent fuel is entombed in concrete dry casks on site at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station.

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Entergy asks state to throw out spent-fuel testimony

New England Coalition weighs in on proposal to build a second spent-fuel pad at VY, and Entergy wants state to dismiss that testimony as irrelevant and immaterial

VERNON—The war of words continues over spent nuclear fuel storage at Vermont Yankee.

In the latest volley, plant owner Entergy argues that the state should disregard the concerns of a technical advisor to the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution — an adviser who has urged “a most scrupulous and searching review” of Entergy’s plans to build a second spent fuel pad on its Vernon property.

The testimony of Raymond Shadis is “irrelevant, immaterial, and beyond the scope of NEC’s intervention,” Entergy’s attorneys wrote.

The coalition — while “not surprised at all” about Entergy’s move — is planning to fight back, said Clay Turnbull, a trustee and staffer.

“Essentially, what they are trying to do is exclude the voice of the people,” Turnbull said.

The debate comes in the context of Entergy’s quest for a state certificate of public good to build a 76-foot by 93-foot concrete pad that eventually will hold spent nuclear fuel housed in dry casks.

Vermont Yankee, which ceased producing power Dec. 29, already hosts 13 dry casks on an existing pad; Entergy will need 58 casks to store all of the plant’s spent fuel.

Much of that fuel remains in a water pool in the plant’s reactor building. And there is general agreement that, for now, dry casks are a much better form of storage for radioactive waste at Vermont Yankee.

There is disagreement, however, on the location of the second fuel pad and the safety of Entergy’s plans.

“We want that fuel moved from the [spent fuel] pool into dry casks right along with everyone else. That’s not what’s in dispute,” Turnbull said. “What’s in dispute is where those casks are going to be and how much due diligence is put into that.”

No sure end game

Long-term fuel storage is necessary at Vermont Yankee because the federal government has not made good on its promise to build a national storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.

In his testimony filed last month with the Vermont Public Service Board, Shadis — a Maine-based consultant to the New England Coalition — seized on the fact that there is no sure end game for the radioactive waste.

“There seems to be a silent or soft-spoken consensus among the federal courts and agencies and the national laboratories that used nuclear fuel will not be leaving plant sites in quantity until at least the 22nd century,” Shadis said.

Shadis said one purpose of his Public Service Board testimony was to underscore his view that “high-level nuclear waste will not be removed from Vermont Yankee or Vermont in our lifetime and thus to help ensure that, because of vast uncertainties as to how long the negative impacts of the proposed project will play out, the board and the parties will give the proposal a most scrupulous and searching review.”

Additionally, Shadis argued that the decommissioning and spent-fuel process at the Maine Yankee nuclear plant — a process in which he participated — was superior to the current Vermont Yankee proceedings.

He cited “many examples of how Maine Yankee extended itself to communicate through meaningful public participation. To date, I know of no comparable examples at Vermont Yankee.”

‘No relevance’

Entergy, in its attempt to have Shadis’s testimony “excluded in its entirety,” first took issue with his Maine Yankee arguments.

“The entirety of his testimony on this subject pertains to other nuclear plants and has no relevance to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station,” the company’s objection says.

On the topic of public participation, Entergy noted that Vermont has formed a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. So Entergy argues that Shadis’s testimony is, at most, a critique of the state’s permitting process.

But the only matter at hand is whether Vermont Yankee’s spent-fuel project meets state regulations, “not how the requirements of those statutes compare to what was done elsewhere,” Entergy’s attorneys wrote.

Even if Shadis’s testimony had any relevance to Vermont Yankee, it is “outside the scope” of issues that the New England Coalition is allowed to address, the lawyers continued.

That’s the crux of Entergy’s other rebuttal to Shadis’s arguments: The company claims he’s overreaching, straying too far into matters that are governed by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission — not the state.

The NRC has “exclusive jurisdiction to license the transfer, delivery, receipt, acquisition, possession and use of nuclear materials,” Entergy’s attorneys wrote.

They criticized Shadis for not detailing the “‘mitigating actions’ he apparently thinks are necessary” to address the long-term storage of spent fuel at Yankee. And they said Shadis hadn’t explained how his radiological concerns have any place in the state’s permitting process.

“Mr. Shadis’s concerns about the federal government’s timely removal of spent nuclear fuel are more properly directed to Vermont’s congressional delegation,” Entergy’s objection says.

‘Hiding behind preemption’

Reacting to Entergy’s filing, Turnbull produced documents showing that the company cited a Maine Yankee court decision in the process of seeking state approval for its first spent-fuel pad.

“Now, they’re opposing our use of a comparison between VY and Maine Yankee,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull also said Entergy is “hiding behind preemption.” In other words, he contends the company is using federal jurisdiction as a shield in order to not have to answer important questions during the state’s permitting process for a spent-fuel pad.

“Entergy has not made a plan on what will happen if [the U.S. Department of Energy] doesn’t take the fuel away,” Turnbull said, citing “land-use issues and economic realities” at the Vermont Yankee site.

Shadis himself, in the testimony that spurred Entergy’s objection, noted the difficulty of navigating the boundaries between federal and state regulators. In the same breath, he was critical of Entergy’s use of those boundaries.

“I would respectfully venture that there is practically nothing to litigate in this docket without treading an almost invisibly thin line — one that Entergy VY seems ready to move or expand and contract, accordion-like, at its whim,” Shadis said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #325 (Wednesday, September 30, 2015). This story appeared on page B1.

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