A new phase, and some new conversations

State announces members of the new decommissioning advisory panel

BRATTLEBORO — As the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant prepares to enter its decommissioning phase at the end of this year, the state's advisory panel also enters a new phase.

Last week, the state announced the names of those who will serve on its 19-member Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP). In addition to the state-level representatives, the panel also includes state delegates from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and six citizens.

The decommissioning panel replaces the seven-member Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP).

Entergy, VY's owner, has yet to release its timeline for decommissioning the plant or a plan for storing the plant's nuclear waste. Under federal law, the plant operator must complete decommissioning within 60 years.

Many in the local community hope for a more rapid decommissioning.

For the six-citizen NDCAP members, Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed Kate O'Connor of Brattleboro to a four-year term, and Martin Langeveld of Vernon to a three-year term. Senate President John Campbell appointed James P. Matteau of Westminster to a four-year term, and James M. Tonkovich of Wilder to a three-year term. House Speaker Shap Smith appointed David L. Deen of Westminster to a four-year term and Derrik Jordan of Putney to a three-year term.

Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, and Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, both served on the VSNAP panel and will continue serving on the new NDCAP.

NDCAP will provide oversight during VY's potentially decades-long decommissioning process.

The panel's duties include holding at least four public meetings a year, reviewing reports, submitting its own reports to the state, collecting public comment, providing educational outreach on VY's decommissioning, considering uses for the site, and reviewing reports on the health of the VY decommissioning fund.

Absent a national nuclear waste storage facility, VY's spent fuel will remain at the reactor site indefinitely.

“We must be absolutely sure we're not going to poison the crown jewel of New England,” said Deen of his goal to protect the Connecticut River from pollution.

Deen served on VSNAP in 1987 and 1988. During this time, the panel's work led to the creation of the Emergency Preparedness Fund and an Emergency Preparedness Network of first responders in a 10-mile radius of the plant.

People have criticized VSNAP in recent years as a disaster, said Deen. “I remember VSNAP when we did have goals.”

He views the NDCAP as a fresh start and looks forward to the panel's work. “This is another phase of VY's life and I want to be involved to make the situation as good as I can for Vermonters,” Deen said.

A 26-year veteran of the House, and river steward with the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Deen has trained an eagle eye on VY's thermal discharge process. He has voiced concerns about heated water released from the plant during its cooling cycle disrupting life in the river.

“I still hold Entergy accountable to the promise they made in 2003,” he said: “To greenfield the campus.”

The panel will have other responsibilities and panel members will have their own goals, he said. But the panel will have to keep moving the process forward.

Hebert, another VSNAP veteran, said that the NDCAP panel is “hopefully new and improved.”

Hebert, representing Vernon and Guilford in the House, has weathered heated discussions about VY, the pros and cons of nuclear power, and the health of the regional economy absent a major employer.

In his opinion, decommissioning “changes the discussion dramatically.”

His focus for serving on the panel is in facilitating people working together on common goals. “The fight is over, so let's see what we can do to rebuild,” Hebert said.

Regional economic development, re-employment for VY workers, softening the tax burden on local property owners once VY leaves Vernon's Grand List, dry cask storage of the spent fuel, and how to reuse the former VY campus also occupy Hebert's long to-do list.

What kind of use the land under VY can support after the plant ceases operation will depend on multiple factors, said Hebert.

The NRC will decide in increments how many acres of the VY campus it will release for reuse, he said.

In Hebert's opinion, replacing the energy produced by VY is important. Constructing a biomass plant, a gas plant, or a combined solar array and gas plant are suggestions that crossed Hebert's desk.

Hebert stressed that the state needs an energy source that produces base load power that can provide energy around the clock.

Solar and wind provide intermittent energy, he said.

Overall, he added, as an advisory panel and advocates for the public, NDCAP will play an important role in delivering messages to the state and NRC about what the local community wants for VY's decommissioning.

“It's all done; let's just move forward,” said Hebert.

Moving forward, however, could equate to navigating unknown territory while blindfolded.

“There's not a lot known of what are we in store for and for how long,” O'Connor said. “You don't hear people talking about the next phase.”

O'Connor added she will wait until the first NDCAP meeting, on Sept. 25, before developing expectations for the new panel.

“I don't have all the answers yet,” said O'Connor, adding that with the first meeting a week away, she has yet to receive a meeting agenda or materials from Montpelier.

According to O'Connor, who is vice-chair on the Brattleboro Selectboard and executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Shumlin's office asked her to accept a four-year term on NDCAP.

Although rhetoric around VY has occasionally been contentious, O'Connor said she considers decommissioning a new phase with a blank slate.

“Let's all work together and let's do this right,” she said.

O'Connor added that she expects the region's response to decommissioning will take time: “This is not a quick thing. It's not like in a couple months we'll have figured this out.”

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