BRATTLEBORO—The overwhelming message during a meeting with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week: Citizen advisory panels need more time and more resources.
Chris Campany, chair of the local Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel (NDCAP) and executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, told the NRC representatives that panel members need more time.
Operating and decommissioned plants alike should have advisory boards as a matter of a general practice so the community has an avenue to connect with the state and understand the impacts of an operating and a decommissioned plant on the community, he said.
“There is value in having the public see these state and owner interactions,” he added.
Citizens need extra time to come up to speed on a very complicated federal process, Campany said, because “we believe it is essential for nuclear host communities to engage with one another.”
June Tierney, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, concurred, calling such a process “long overdue.”
The federal government should provide a space for the citizens to work and provide resources — and these costs should not fall on the ratepayers or taxpayers, Tierney said.
“The NRC was not very democratic in its inception,” Tierney continued. Given the breadth of the NDCAP panel, she felt that the same should happen at the federal level.
NDCAP represents “the importance of your everyday person’s view,” she added. The panel members might not be experts but they are the people who can tell the government what it means to live with a nuclear plant in their town, Tierney said.
“Vermont has been a model for citizen engagement,” she said. “The advocates have a lot to be proud of.”
Such comments were directed to the NRC, which visited the area on Sept. 10 as part of an 11-town listening tour of nuclear host communities.
The commission is collecting feedback as part of a report on best practices for citizen advisory panels (CAP) that the NRC must submit to Congress.
The commission will accept public input until Nov. 15.
A heavy workload
Vermont has had two incarnations of a community advisory panel. The first was the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP), which functioned when the plant was active. In 2014, after the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant closed, the current 19-member Nuclear Decommissioning Advisory Panel (NDCAP) began its work.
Lissa Weinmann, NDCAP vice-chair and a local business owner, said the panel performs an essential community function.
The workload is heavy, she added, and it is a lot to expect from citizens to serve on a panel without compensation.
“We need to have resources available,” Weinmann said, and said she believes the cost should fall to the plant owner.
Josh Unruh, chair of the Vernon Selectboard, who was recently appointed to NDCAP by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, raised concerns about the membership of NDCAP.
“Everyone thinks they’re a stakeholder,” he said. “And they’re not,”
Vernon, where the plant is located, has one seat out of 19, he said.
“For me and my town, it is my opinion that any town should have at least three seats at that table,” said Unruh, who called Vernon the “real stakeholder” and claimed that his town was never consulted in “any way, shape, or form.”
Deb Katz, executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), said that in 1996 she submitted thoughts to the NRC outlining areas of concern such as what an advisory panel should accomplish, its purview, its stakeholders, its potential areas of concern, and technical assistance.
According to Katz, CAN has had official seats on two advisory panels and has gone through two other decommissioning processes: Yankee Rowe, which operated in Rowe, Mass., from 1961 to 1992, and Connecticut Yankee, in Haddam Neck, Conn., which operated from 1968 to 1998. Decommissioning of both plants concluded in 2007.
The plants in Massachusetts and Connecticut are two of the 10 reactor sites in the United States that have completed decommissioning.
Katz said that the panels should be independent of the plant’s owner, echoing a concern of Weinmann’s.
The enabling legislation for NDCAP specifies two seats for the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station, currently NorthStar.
Katz said that the respective citizens’ panels for Yankee Rowe and Connecticut Yankee ran into a fundamental conflict: in each case, she said, the panel’s agenda was driven by the company’s needs and not the public’s right to know.
“It’s a faulted process at best,” she said of the federal process.
NRC should try to negotiate a role for states and citizens to have a meaningful engagement in the process, she said.
“I am asking you to do the right thing and actually negotiate a way for people to be engaged in a way that has meaning,” Katz added.
‘You build a lot of good will when you show you have nothing to hide’
Donald Hudson, chairs the current CAP that replaced the decommissioning CAP at Maine Yankee which was decommissioned 12 years ago. Approximately 60 canisters of nuclear waste are still stored at the site.
“Everybody’s decommissioning is different,” he said.
The CAP did publish a document outlining best practices after Maine Yankee’s decommissioning process, and each member made comments, he said. The comments ran the gamut from unhappy to satisfied.
The same will probably hold true for any decommissioning process, Hudson said, “but the take-home lesson is that the people were engaged.”
Strong leadership is important, he said. “The company genuinely bought into the process.”
As an example, anti-nuclear activist Ray Shadis, long associated with the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC) in Brattleboro, had regular access to everything at Maine Yankee.
“You build a lot of goodwill when you show you have nothing to hide,” Hudson said.