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Lawmakers weigh in on nuclear rules

Vermont’s congressional delegation members are among 15 federal legislators calling for more local, state inclusion in nuclear-plant decommissioning

VERNON—Vermont’s congressional delegation is asking federal regulators to “give local stakeholders a seat at the table” when nuclear plants decommission.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., joined a dozen other legislators in writing to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as that agency begins developing new regulations for shut-down plants.

As Vermont Yankee transitions toward decommissioning, a frequent complaint has been the lack of participation for host communities and state governments. So that is an important issue for the legislators, who argue in their March 15 letter for a “transparent, authentic and inclusive process.”

“The decommissioning of a nuclear power plant has an enormous impact on the state and communities hosting the plant,” the letter says. “It is essential, therefore, that the agency work collaboratively with states, localities and interested parties throughout the decommissioning process.”

The NRC has acknowledged a need to come up with a new set of “clear requirements” for dormant nuclear plants. The agency expects to cover topics such as emergency preparedness, security, and decommissioning schedules.

The rule-making process will take years. The NRC late last year kicked off an initial public-comment period that ended March 18, and a variety of interested entities — including Vermont Yankee owner Entergy and the state of Vermont — worked to issue opinions before the deadline.

The congressional letter offers a number of rule-making requests including:

NOTE (Abe Loomis, 2016-03-25T17:02:22): ?&#8226; Enhancing community involvement by requiring nuclear licensees to include state and local input in their decommissioning plans. The lawmakers also want the NRC to formally approve those plans, which isn't required at this point.

&#8226; Ensuring that decommissioning funds are spent “strictly for statutorily authorized purposes.” Use of Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning trust fund has led to an ongoing battle between Vermont officials and the NRC.

&#8226; Requiring that radioactive, spent nuclear fuel be moved from cooling pools to more stable dry cask storage as soon as possible.

&#8226; Pushing for plant sites to be “rapidly returned to beneficial use” and for plant licensees to “maintain or obtain the financial resources necessary to do so.” The federally approved NOTE (Abe Loomis, 2016-03-25T17:04:09): Acronym ok w/out first ref?SAFSTOR program — which Vermont Yankee is headed into — allows up to 60 years for decommissioning.

&#8226; Maintaining “all emergency preparedness and response and security resources” at a plant until spent fuel is sealed in dry cask storage. The NRC is allowing Vermont Yankee to dramatically scale back its emergency operations as of next month, and state officials have said that is too soon.

In addition to the three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, 12 other federal lawmakers signed the letter to the NRC.

They were: Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and nine Democratic representatives from Massachusetts: Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, William Keating, Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, Seth Moulton, Richard Neal, and Niki Tsongas.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #350 (Wednesday, March 30, 2016).

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