State energy officials should work with NRC

BRATTLEBORO — I am concerned about Vermont Public Service Department (PSD) Commissioner Chris Recchia's statement that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plant decommissioning process is “broken” and that Vermont must lead the way to fix it.

This position, if pursued, would once more have the state of Vermont challenging and encroaching on the federal preserve in all matters touching nuclear safety.

The Public Service Department opposes the NRC's granting Vermont Yankee permission to access the decommissioning trust fund (DCT) to pay for moving used fuel rods from the indoor storage pool into even safer, secure steel casks at the site.

The NRC has granted exemptions to do this for a very good reason: the federal government itself has not fulfilled its legal obligation to take care of the nation's spent nuclear fuel by shipping it to a national repository. Without a national repository, the NRC is allowing plants, on a case-by-case basis, to safely store spent fuel on site and to access the DCT bridge financing for this purpose.

It is important to realize that Vermont Yankee is not “raiding” this fund, as has been asserted. Vermont Yankee arranged its own, separate $143 million line of credit to finance the initial stages of this costly, time-intensive process. The money being withdrawn from the DCT will be reimbursed when the work is completed.

Industry experts also believe it is just a matter of time before federal courts require that the Department of Energy return the money already collected to finance the not-built repository.

Less than four years ago, Vermont suffered two embarrassing defeats in federal court when it tried to enact nuclear-safety-related legislation. Now, once again, the state is disputing the U.S. government's handling of an indirect, yet important, feature of nuclear safety: funding the moving and storing of spent fuel.

Other states don't seem interested in accepting Vermont's offer to challenge the NRC and federal government. A single-state challenge to the federal government's well-entrenched legal position might be thrilling to a few anti-nuclear warriors. The outcome is likely to be just as devastating as the Charge of the Light Brigade for the attackers - in this case, the burdened taxpayers of Vermont.

Mr. Recchia's frustrations are understandable. Still, it would be best for Vermont to work cooperatively within the federal framework to insure a safe decommissioning.

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