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What the site looked like four years later, after most of the structures were demolished.

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Nuke panelists find tranquility at Connecticut Yankee site

VNDCAP members visit site of decommissioned nuclear plant, where they found little evidence of prior operations and an atmosphere akin to ‘wildlife sanctuary’

BRATTLEBORO—There’s not much that Connecticut Yankee and Vermont Yankee have in common, other than their names and the fact that they’re both nuclear plants that no longer produce power.

But a recent field trip to the Connecticut site provided several members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VNDCAP) with some important insights.

For VNDCAP Chair Kate O’Connor, the most powerful impression was Connecticut Yankee’s reclamation by nature — and her realization that something similar might one day happen in Vernon.

“If you didn’t have to drive through a security gate, you would never know that you were entering the site of a former nuclear power plant,” O’Connor recalled from her visit to the Connecticut property.

“I drove down to Vernon not long after the trip and tried to imagine what the site will look like when the buildings are gone,” O’Connor added. “It is a hard thing to imagine, but after seeing [Connecticut Yankee], I know it is possible to restore a site back to green grass.”

Vermont Yankee owner Entergy cited economic factors in its decision to stop producing power at the Vernon plant as of Dec. 29, 2014. The plant’s reactor has been de-fueled, and some site cleanup has begun.

But under a program called SAFSTOR, the site is entering a decades-long period of dormancy until its decommissioning fund earns enough money to complete decommissioning work.

Two plants, two decommissioning paths

Things went much differently at Connecticut Yankee, which is not owned by Entergy. At the Haddam Neck, Conn., plant, which shut down in 1996, decommissioning started in May 1998 and was finished in November 2007.

On the plant’s website, administrators say they chose “immediate dismantlement [...] because it was the most practical and environmentally responsible option for the plant.”

Administrators said they also considered other factors, including the availability of experienced plant employees to help in the process and the “prevention of long-term maintenance costs.”

The speed of decommissioning was just one of the differences between the Yankees in Connecticut and Vermont. Others include:

• The Connecticut plant operated for 28 years, while VY produced electricity for 42 years. That’s a big factor in the amount of spent nuclear fuel that must be stored at the sites: There are 1,019 fuel assemblies at the Connecticut site and 3,880 in Vermont.

• There are 43 dry-cask storage containers for spent fuel at Connecticut Yankee. There will be 58 at Vermont Yankee when all fuel eventually is removed from a storage pool.

• Connecticut Yankee is a much more sprawling site: 525 acres, compared to 125 acres at Vermont Yankee.

• That site size allowed Connecticut administrators to place their spent-fuel-storage facilities three-quarters of a mile from the plant’s reactor. At Vermont Yankee, the existing spent-fuel pad is just 200 feet from the reactor — a proximity that some fear will lead to a longer and more costly decommissioning process.

Members of VNDCAP traveled to Connecticut to get a full tour of the site, including its spent-fuel storage. In a summary of the visit presented at the Sept. 24 VNDCAP meeting, officials wrote that “it was noted that locating the [spent fuel pad] well away from the facility made decommissioning easier.”

The Vermont panelists who made the June 26 trip were O’Connor, a citizen appointee to VNDCAP; David Andrews, who represents the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on the advisory panel; Chris Campany, Windham Regional Commission executive director; Bill Irwin, radiological and toxicological sciences program chief at Vermont Department of Health; Jim Matteau, another citizen appointee; and Steve Skibniowsky, representing the town of Vernon. Also traveling to Connecticut Yankee was Tony Leshinskie, Vermont state nuclear engineer.

Skibniowsky said the trip was “very productive from the standpoint of seeing the physical location both of the site — what the site looks like now — and also to see where the fuel-storage facility is located at that site, which is a very different site than what Vermont Yankee has.”

He also took note of the site’s relative tranquility following demolition of the main plant structures.

“Their entire facility is no longer visible,” Skibniowsky said. “It’s really not possible to tell there was a nuclear plant there.”

O’Connor, in recounting the visit for The Commons, said there was “no asphalt except for a road, not even an indentation in the ground.”

“It looked like a wildlife sanctuary or a park. They mow the lawns, so nothing is overgrown,” O’Connor wrote in an email. “We saw deer and even a bald eagle. It was actually very peaceful. Of course, there is one dry cask storage pad, but you can’t see it. It’s built far from the entrance and is surrounded by trees. I think the dry cask pad is one of the major differences between Connecticut Yankee and VY. Unlike [at] Connecticut Yankee, the casks at VY will be visible.”

Still dormant

Aesthetics aside, there might also be a lesson at Connecticut Yankee for those who hope for eventual redevelopment of the Vermont Yankee site: The removal of most nuclear-plant structures has not yet spurred commercial activity at the Connecticut property.

The VNDCAP visit notes indicate that there had been efforts to redevelop Connecticut Yankee as a gas-fired or alternate-fuel-source electric generating station.

But “these efforts collapsed during the 2008 recession,” the VNDCAP document says, and “there are currently no efforts for any site redevelopment.”

Connecticut Yankee’s website says administrators remain open to talking about redevelopment options, though there is “no timetable for making such a decision.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #326 (Wednesday, October 7, 2015). This story appeared on page B1.

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