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NRC finishes review of VY cleanup plan, estimates decommissioning, spent-fuel management

VERNON—Federal regulators have given their blessing to Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning plans.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Feb. 4 announced that the Vernon plant’s Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report is consistent with federal guidelines. The report includes plant owner Entergy’s decommissioning cost estimate and the company’s schedule for Vermont Yankee’s radiological cleanup.

Before making any changes to its plans — including those that would “significantly” boost decommissioning costs — Entergy must notify the NRC in writing, officials wrote in a Jan. 29 letter to plant administrators.

Entergy ceased power production at Vermont Yankee in December 2014 and submitted the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report that same month. While formal NRC approval of the document is not required, the agency performed a detailed review.

The NRC also took public comment and held a public meeting in February 2015 in Brattleboro. Federal officials say they received “a large number of comments” from individuals and from Vermont officials.

The federal agency’s staff considered some of the issues raised by the public, documents show.

Those included the adequacy and appropriate use of the plant’s decommissioning trust fund; long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at the plant; the status of offsite emergency plans after Vermont Yankee shutdown; and Entergy’s choice of the long-term SAFSTOR decommissioning option.

Other public concerns were not considered, either because they were outside the NRC’s authority or “were not relevant to the review performed by the NRC staff,” officials wrote.

Those issues included questions or comments about the specific condition of various plant components including spent fuel; thermal pollution in the Connecticut River; transportation and storage of low-level radioactive material; and “the acceptability of current NRC regulations.”

In the end, the NRC came to several conclusions:

• Entergy “adequately described the activities associated with the major periods or milestones” in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning.

• The company’s proposed decommissioning schedule “is adequate to achieve VY license termination within 60 years of permanent cessation of operations.” That’s the maximum amount of time allowed under the federal SAFSTOR program.

• Entergy’s estimated cost to terminate its Vermont Yankee NRC license—$817 million—was found to be “not unreasonable,” and the company gave “sufficient details associated with the funding mechanisms,” federal officials wrote. In addition to that license-termination cost, Entergy also expects to spend $368 million on long-term spent fuel management and $57 million on site restoration, for a total of $1.24 billion.

• The company’s environmental-impact assessment for decommissioning meets federal requirements.

Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman Marty Cohn said the federal review shows that the company’s decommissioning plan “is consistent with all NRC requirements.”

“We are proud of the efforts all our employees have provided and will continue to provide to ensure the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee is done as safely and cost-effectively as possible,” Cohn said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #343 (Wednesday, February 10, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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