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State rules against anti-nuke group in Vermont Yankee case

BRATTLEBORO—State regulators have rejected an anti-nuclear group’s last-minute objections to spent fuel plans at Vermont Yankee.

The state Public Service Board still is considering Entergy’s plans to build a new storage facility for radioactive spent fuel at the Vernon plant. But in an order issued June 1, the board declined to admit new evidence offered by New England Coalition in the case.

The Brattleboro-based coalition had asked the Public Service Board to consider information about the proposed fuel facility’s visibility and its potential to be built underground. The board, however, ruled that the coalition’s motions were too little, too late.

New England Coalition “appears to be seeking an additional post-hearing opportunity to litigate matters that could and should have been explored through discovery and cross-examination much earlier in this case,” board members wrote.

Though Vermont Yankee is no longer producing power, its spent fuel remains on site due to the lack of a federal repository for such material. Some of that fuel is stored in 13 sealed dry casks on a concrete pad, but the majority of that material remains in a cooling pool inside the plant’s reactor building.

Entergy has pledged to move all of Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel into dry casks by the end of 2020; eventually, the site will host a total of 58 casks. So the company is seeking Public Service Board permission to construct a second spent fuel pad adjacent to the first.

There has been extensive debate about Entergy’s plans to build the 93-by-76-foot pad, given that the structure will hold radioactive material on the banks of the Connecticut River for decades to come.

The Public Service Board held an evidentiary hearing in the case on Feb. 23. New England Coalition participated in that hearing, but in the months that followed the activist group also asked the state to consider several new arguments.

The coalition argued that underground storage might be safer than the above-ground casks favored by Entergy. The organization also disputed Entergy’s testimony regarding the limited visibility of the planned fuel-storage facility.

Those requests were made after the state’s evidentiary hearing, so the coalition was asking the Public Service Board to reopen the record in the fuel pad case to admit more evidence. The board on June 1 said it wouldn’t do so.

The board ruled that “all of the evidence that NEC now seeks to present was available to it prior to hearings.” That includes information regarding the visibility of the fuel pad from various vantage points, as well as information about the design of underground fuel-storage casks.

The coalition could have used this information in cross-examining witnesses at the Public Service Board’s hearing, or it could have asked for a delay during the hearing to allow more time to prepare its arguments.

“NEC elected not to pursue any of these avenues and has not shown any good cause for the board to now allow it to change its tactical decisions,” the Public Service Board wrote. “Moreover, admitting the evidence now would place other parties at a disadvantage because they would not be able to offer further rebuttal or explanation of the material.”

The board also declined to consider pictures presented by the coalition, ruling that “it is not clear exactly what the photographs demonstrate.”

The New England Coalition additionally had argued that the testimony of two Entergy witnesses was “misleading, inaccurate and less than the whole truth.” But the Public Service Board said the coalition hasn’t shown that Entergy’s testimony “raises sufficient questions as to warrant further investigation.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #360 (Wednesday, June 8, 2016). This story appeared on page C4.

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