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Hebert appointed to nuclear oversight panel

VERNON—State Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Vernon, received notice on Sept. 24 that House Speaker Shapleigh “Shap” Smith Jr. appointed him to the state’s nuclear oversight panel.

The seven-member Vermont State Nuclear Oversight Panel (VSNAP), part of the Vermont Department of Public Service, considers nuclear issues in the state, with a focus on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon.

“I think I’ll be able to help our region with how we go on living after VY is gone,” Hebert said.

Hebert will fill the appointment previously held by Rep. Sarah Edwards, P/D-Brattleboro, who stepped down from the Legislature in 2012.

Rep. Anthony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, nominated Hebert, who also serves on the committee.

In August, VY’s owner, Entergy Corp., announced it would close the 650-megawatt plant by the end of 2014, well ahead of the expiration of its current 20-year operating license in 2032.

Entergy cited a poor economic climate in announcing its decision.

The 41-year-old plant employs some 630 people, who live in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Anti-nuclear activists have protested the plant’s operation since it opened. The Senate in 2010 voted overwhelmingly to deny the Public Service Board from hearing VY’s case for a state-issued Certificate of Public Good.

In turn, Entergy sued the state in federal court, claiming the state had pre-empted federal law by trying to regulate radiological safety — a right reserved for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Hebert will also serve on the VSNAP panel with the Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, who chairs the panel; and the secretaries, or their designees, of the agencies of Human Services and Natural Resources.

Two members of the public and a Vermont state senator also serve.

According to Hebert, Smith is sensitive to the issues that Vernon and Windham County face regarding VY’s closure and decommissioning, which could bring big economic changes to a region already struggling with what some observers have called a decades-long recession.

Hebert said he feels his appointment was the “logical choice” given that he represents the host town of Vernon, and that Windham County will be affected by VY’s closure.

“I’m really appreciative of the Speaker’s consideration and appointing someone from down here,” he said.

Hebert said he wants to focus on issues related to VY and the decommissioning process. He said Entergy officials have said the company intends to exit Vernon “with its head held high.”

Hebert said he also hopes to focus on helping Brattleboro-based R.O.V. Technologies, Inc. navigate the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact.

According to Hebert, Vermont entered the agreement with Texas to dispose of low-level nuclear waste, most of it from VY.

R.O.V. Technologies specializes in robotic equipment and cameras for inspecting nuclear plants. The remotely operated robots enter spent fuel pools and other areas of nuclear plants too dangerous or inaccessible to staff.

The company started operating after the state joined the Texas Compact, said Hebert.

Through its exposure to nuclear reactors, R.O.V., generates extremely low-level waste, said Hebert. The company could send the waste to less-expensive depositories in other states, but Vermont-based companies are required to send low-level nuclear waste to Texas.

According to Hebert, the company is negotiating international contracts and will likely double in size within a few years.

R.O.V. is local and pays well, he said.

Hebert said he fears that the company could easily sidestep the requirement by moving to Hinsdale, N.H., where a vacant former Walmart stands, and is working to keep those jobs in Vermont.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #223 (Wednesday, October 2, 2013).

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