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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

Welch says bill boosts local input on nuke cleanups

Introduces legislation designed to increase the role of state, local governments when nuclear plants shut down

VERNON—Echoing a recurring theme in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch says newly introduced federal legislation would increase the influence of state and local governments in nuclear-plant cleanup.

Welch, D-Vt., announced April 20 that he had introduced the Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act as a companion to a Senate bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“As we’ve seen with Vermont Yankee, the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant has a huge impact on local communities,” Welch said in a prepared statement announcing the bill. “This commonsense legislation ensures the decommissioning process is transparent, inclusive, and collaborative so that all interested parties are heard.”

Since Vermont Yankee’s closure at the end of 2014, state, regional and local officials have complained that they can’t participate meaningfully in the decommissioning process. As the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeks to revamp its rules for decommissioning plants, Vermont and several other states have lobbied for more participation and stronger regulations.

Vermont’s congressional delegation has backed up the state’s concerns in separate filings with the NRC.

Welch’s legislation further makes the point by asking for several changes:

• Requiring that nuclear-plant licensees, when drawing up a decommissioning plan, “consult with host states and state and local governments within 50 miles of the plant.”

• Mandating that the NRC solicit public input on a decommissioning plan before the document is finalized.

• Requiring the NRC to formally approve or reject a decommissioning plan. As it stands, the commission reviews those documents but doesn’t approve them.

• Providing for “expedited” NRC approval of decommissioning plans when a state supports them.

In instances where a state dissents, “the NRC must consider amending the proposed plan based on the host state’s recommendations,” Welch’s announcement says. “This incentivizes collaboration between the licensee and the host state while ensuring a reasonable balance between them.”

The nuclear industry has spoken against such changes, arguing that the NRC should instead focus on developing a clear set of rules for decommissioning plants so that licensees can avoid costly, time-consuming regulatory exemptions and license amendments.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #355 (Wednesday, May 4, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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