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VT asks NRC to probe Yankee trust fund use

Petition says Entergy poised to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from intended decommissioning work

VERNON—Having already pursued regulatory appeals and court action, Vermont officials are trying another tactic to limit usage of the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund.

The state attorney general and Public Service Department on Nov. 6 announced a new petition asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to undertake a “robust, comprehensive and participatory review” of various trust-fund uses planned by Entergy, the Vernon nuclear plant’s owner.

“Considered together, Entergy’s actions threaten to undermine the radiological decommissioning work that is the very purpose of the fund,” the document says. “Unless the commission intervenes, Entergy will divert hundreds of millions of dollars from their intended purpose.”

Entergy ceased producing power at Vermont Yankee at the end of 2014 and has been withdrawing cash from the plant’s decommissioning trust fund throughout 2015. The plant is headed into a period of extended dormancy called SAFSTOR, under which decommissioning can take up to 60 years. The actual timing of the job depends on the trust fund’s growth.

The NRC, which oversees trust-fund use, limits those monies to radiological decommissioning work at nuclear sites. And the agency is conducting its own in-depth look at Entergy’s proposed fund expenditures; an NRC spokesman said recently that a review of Vermont Yankee’s site-specific decommissioning cost estimate is scheduled for completion by year’s end.

But the NRC already has granted Entergy an exemption to use the VY trust fund for long-term spent-fuel management, a decision that spurred a lawsuit the state of Vermont filed in August. State officials also have objected to Entergy’s plans to use the trust fund for other expenses such as property taxes and insurance payments.

In the new NRC petition, Vermont officials argue that state residents “have a direct interest in ensuring proper use of the decommissioning fund” — and not just because the state’s electricity users paid into that fund.

“Vermont and its citizens will be most at risk in the event of a shortfall in the decommissioning fund that prevents the site from being fully decontaminated and restored,” the petition says. “That risk is radiological and environmental if the site is not fully decontaminated or properly managed before full radiological decontamination and license termination.”

“That risk is also financial — there is no guarantee that Vermont taxpayers will not become the payers of last resort if the decommissioning fund is insufficient,” officials added in the petition. “Further, Vermont faces other potential harms springing from those risks, including damaging effects on its economy.”

Also participating in the petition filing are Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. and its current owner, Green Mountain Power. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power is the former owner of the nuclear plant, which Entergy purchased in 2002. Also, officials noted that Green Mountain Power and its ratepayers have a 55 percent interest in any money remaining after Vermont Yankee is decommissioned.

“We want the NRC to protect Vermont ratepayers’ interest in this fund,” state Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia said in a prepared statement. “Especially in light of Entergy’s recent announcements regarding the upcoming closure of the Pilgrim and FitzPatrick nuclear plants, the NRC needs to start taking these matters more seriously and provide a comprehensive and participatory process for reviewing requests to use decommissioning funds.”

An arm of the NRC recently required Entergy to provide more detail for certain uses of the trust fund. But in a separate matter, the NRC declined the state’s request to further investigate Entergy’s finances.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #331 (Wednesday, November 11, 2015). This story appeared on page B4.

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