Decommissioning nuclear power plants still demands public scrutiny

One of the common misconceptions about nuclear power plants is that once they are “shut down,” the work in ensuring safer conditions on the site is over. In fact, that is not true.

The decommissioning process - now in progress at Vermont Yankee - is often the most dangerous time in the life cycle of a plant, as the staff overseeing operations has been drastically reduced.

The terms of the decommissioning are critical in ensuring the safest outcome.

Public officials as well as the New England Coalition have expressed concerns that the company intending to buy the old nuclear plant, NorthStar, has not provided adequate assurance that it has the funds to own the plant and see the decommissioning process through properly.

We have witnessed recently the importance of storing radioactive materials safely in Hanford, Wash., where a 20-foot section of a tunnel housing contaminated radioactive waste collapsed and hundreds of workers were ordered to “take cover” at the complex where waste from the production of nuclear weapons has been stored.

An August 2015 report by Vanderbilt University's civil and environmental engineering department had warned about the safety of the tunnels and the dangerous and contaminated waste stored there. The Union of Concerned Scientists had warned that collapse of the tunnels could lead to serious radiological release.

Nuclear waste is hazardous for tens of thousands of years. The site for storing it at Vermont Yankee is located on the river over an aquifer that provides water for people downstream.

The NEC is seeking status to intervene in the process, not only to try to ensure a safer decommissioning outcome but to protect the land and the water.

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