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Selectboard receives update on reduction in Vermont Yankee emergency response plans

BRATTLEBORO—As the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant decommissions, so will local radiological emergency planning.

Fire Chief Michael Bucossi updated the Selectboard during its Feb. 16 meeting on reductions and upcoming changes to the town’s radiological planning.

VY shut down in December 2014 after more than four decades of operation. According to Bucossi, plant employees moved the fuel rods from the reactor to the spent fuel pool for “hot, wet storage” on Jan. 12.

“As the rods cool they become less of a threat and the cooling pool/fuel rods transition to what is considered ‘cool, wet storage,’ which is anticipated to be April 15, 2016,” Bucossi wrote in a Feb. 5 memo to the board.

“April 15 is said to be the day that everything we know will change with VY,” Bucossi added. “This is the day it is felt to be no longer likely to have an offsite emergency, unless there is a catastrophic event.”

Such an event, he said, would cause the water keeping the fuel rods cool to be drained from the storage area. If this happens, the rods could ignite.

Entergy, VY’s parent company, told Bucossi the heating process happens slowly. Plant employees would have 10 hours to 10 days to remedy the situation.

In his memo, Bucossi outlined a number of transitions planned for April 15.

These included the town’s Radiological Emergency Response Plan (RERP) becoming obsolete. The municipality transitions to a condensed radiological response plan that will become one section in its overall Emergency Operations Plan. The federal reception center in Bellows Falls will cease to exist.

The Red Cross will manage any future shelters if necessary. VY will stop staffing its onsite fire brigade as Entergy believes any fires would be “normal” industrial blazes rather than radiological. The fire brigade’s duties will fall to Vernon’s fire department and its mutual aid partners.

Bucossi told the board that June 24 marks the tentative date for closing the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Department of Homeland Security local office, located in Brattleboro. Staff reassignments are yet to be determined.

Bucossi and state emergency management staff collaborated on revising the town’s radiological emergency plan.

These dates, said Bucossi, are subject to change.

Selectboard Vice-chair Kate O’Connor thanked Bucossi for his update and then addressed the board.

O’Connor chairs the state’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP). Local residents, state officials, state employees, and Entergy representatives on the panel weigh in on issues around VY’s decommissioning.

“This is Entergy’s take on what’s happening,” she said. The state and Entergy are debating a few issues that could slightly alter Entergy’s plans.

For example, she continued, should the local emergency planning cease April 15, or extend to 2020 when Entergy estimates all the fuel rods will be moved to the permanent dry cask storage.

Some people debating the issue have said the fuel rods pose a greater danger in the fuel pool than Entergy says they do, O’Connor said.

O’Connor continued, Entergy is operating within federal regulations. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), however, has not developed a rule book for decommissioning.

“They’re making them up as they go along,” she said.

Board member John Allen said, “What do they do? Just wing it? Wow.”

The NRC expects to have rules in place by 2019, O’Connor added.

Board member Donna Macomber said she appreciated the state’s “protective stance” on behalf of its citizens.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #347 (Wednesday, March 9, 2016). This story appeared on page A3.

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