VERNON—Having absorbed heavy criticism in recent weeks, the current and potential owners of Vermont Yankee are defending their plans to decommission the Vernon nuclear plant.
In more than 130 pages of documents filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, attorneys for Entergy and NorthStar Group Services use phrases like “bald assertions,” “unfounded claims” and “pure speculation” to describe concerns raised by Vermont officials and the New England Coalition.
And they argue that NorthStar, which wants to buy the plant from Entergy by the end of next year, is “better-positioned” to clean up Vermont Yankee than the current owner.
“In actuality, the proposed transaction will benefit Vermont citizens,” the companies wrote.
Entergy, which stopped producing power at Vermont Yankee at the end of 2014, had been planning a decommissioning process that could take up to 60 years. In contrast, New York-based NorthStar says it can do the job by the end of 2030 and possibly as early as 2026.
Both the NRC and the Vermont Public Utility Commission must approve the change of ownership.
In the course of the state’s review, many questions have been raised about NorthStar’s ability to follow through on its plans.
Recently, those same kinds of questions also have permeated the NRC’s review. Vermont officials in June expressed serious doubts about NorthStar’s plans, and the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition followed suit soon after.
Both entities took aim at NorthStar’s decommissioning planning and financial wherewithal. They want to intervene in the federal review, and they’re asking the NRC to hold a hearing.
But in joint responses, Entergy and NorthStar asked the NRC to throw out the state’s and New England Coalition’s petitions.
The companies rely partly on legal and procedural grounds: They say the would-be intervenors’ contentions are inadmissible and raise issues that don’t have a place in the current matter before the NRC.
But they also take issue with specific claims made by the state and the anti-nuclear coalition. Among the issues in question:
• New England Coalition argued that the NRC didn’t seem to be paying much attention to NorthStar’s “untested method of managing decommissioning.”
The Vermont Yankee transaction, if approved, would be the first time that a company purchases a nuclear plant and its spent fuel for decommissioning purposes.
But Entergy and NorthStar contend they’re “not breaking new ground” in terms of the work to be performed in Vernon.
“There is nothing untested about the decommissioning approach proposed by applicants with regard to either the specific methods to be used to dismantle and decontaminate [Vermont Yankee], or the fiscal/project management methods to be applied to manage decommissioning costs and schedule,” the companies wrote.
• The two companies also seek to downplay the significance of the NRC’s review, saying the question of Vermont Yankee’s license transfer is “strictly administrative” and doesn’t require a hearing or a full environmental study.
“Transfers of decommissioning reactor licenses to facilitate expedited decommissioning are not unprecedented or otherwise extraordinary,” the companies wrote, citing two previous instances of such transfers.
In neither of those instances, however, were the plants in question being sold to the decommissioning company.
• State officials had argued that there was “significant risk” that the plant sale “will lead to a shortfall in the amount of funding available to fully and safely decommission” Vermont Yankee due to the potential for unforeseen expenses.
But NorthStar says those are “vague and conclusory claims,” since NRC filings include the company’s financial qualifications and detail the extent of its decommissioning planning.
The company cites its planned use of “performance-bonded, fixed-price contracts”; a “pay-item disbursement approach” in which work will be performed before NorthStar withdraws cash from the plant’s trust fund; and $125 million in additional corporate support available in case the trust fund proves inadequate.
That extra $125 million means NorthStar “will have even greater financial support” than Entergy has to navigate the risks of decommissioning, the company claims.
• There have been many questions about whether Entergy and NorthStar have a good handle on the contaminants at Vermont Yankee.
But the companies say a 2014 site assessment is more comprehensive than has been claimed by New England Coalition. The study “reflects consideration of site-specific environmental monitoring or field data,” they contend.
More-recent reports show no additional radiological groundwater contamination, the companies say.
Entergy and NorthStar also single out two well-publicized radiological contaminants.
The tritium leak discovered at Vermont Yankee seven years ago “has been fully investigated, is well-understood and poses no threat to public health or the environment,” the companies wrote. Nor does it risk an increase in decommissioning costs, they added.
Also, the companies say Vermont officials haven’t explained “how the detection of very low levels of strontium-90, the source of which remains ‘unclear,’ demonstrates any likelihood of ‘enormous cost overruns’ and decommissioning shortfalls.”