News

NRC Permit Sought to Use Funds for Spent Fuel

October 30, 2008
McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Bob Audette Brattleboro Reformer, Vt.

Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee is once again asking for permission to
use a portion of the nuclear power plant's decommissioning fund to manage
spent fuel.

In a document filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Oct. 14,
Entergy is requesting a waiver to NRC regulations that would allow it to
withdraw nearly $100 million from the fund to manage nuclear waste at the
power plant in Vernon.

Earlier this year, in March, Entergy submitted a plan for spent fuel
management during decommissioning.

"The plan called for money from the plant's decommissioning trust fund
to be used to cover spent fuel management costs once the plant was shut
down," stated NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan, in an e-mail to the Reformer on
Wednesday. "We rejected that, saying the trust fund money may only be used
for decommissioning work, 'unless the funds are in addition to
decommissioning funds and if they have been earmarked for spent fuel
management.'"

Sheehan said the NRC was in the process of reviewing Entergy's
application for a waiver.

Currently, Entergy has stored five dry casks containing nuclear waste
on a concrete pad just north of the plant's reactor building. Between now
and 2015, Entergy will need to store another 10 casks worth of fuel on a new
concrete pad, according to the Oct. 14 letter.

Each dry cask holds 680 fuel assemblies, or 100 tons of nuclear waste.

Even though Entergy "has not determined or committed to a specific
decommissioning approach for Vermont Yankee at this time," stated the waiver
request letter, it submitted the plan to demonstrate "the adequacy of
funding to meet regulatory requirements to use the SAFSTOR decommissioning
option based on the current license expiration date ...."

SAFSTOR is an NRC-approved method of mothballing a nuclear power plant
until decommissioning funds reach the level needed to safely clean up a
site.

Entergy has applied to the NRC to extend its operating license from
2012 to 2032. If Yankee receives a license renewal, Entergy will need to
revise its spent fuel plan. If Yankee doesn't receive a license renewal,
Entergy plans to put the plant into SAFSTOR until 2067, when it will begin
decommissioning. Entergy expects it will take five years to complete the
process.

"The decommissioning trust fund balance for Vermont Yankee was
reported at $439.567 million as of December 31, 2007," stated the Oct. 14
document. However, after the recent downturn of the economy, the fund lost
more than $40 million, reducing it by 10 percent.

Entergy has promised to deposit another $60 million in the
decommissioning fund in 2026 to help pay for spent fuel management costs.

"Throw in what the markets are doing lately and a promise to put $60
million in the bank in 2026 is laughable," said Clay Turnbull, spokesman for
the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution.

It could cost up to $1 billion to decommission the plant, he said.

"We do have great concerns about the time frames they want Vermonters
to trust them before cleaning up their mess and the assumptions they've made
about the cost to adequately decommission the site," said Turnbull.

Power plant operators are required to file a plan for the management
of nuclear waste within five years of license expiration, said Bob Stannard,
spokesman for the anti-nuclear Citizen Awareness Network.

Entergy's plan for Vermont Yankee is one year late. Recently the NRC
asked Entergy why it had not filed its report in 2007. Entergy responded
that after its reading of NRC regulations it concluded that because it was
in the process of applying for a license extension it was exempt from the
regulation.

The NRC refused to accept Entergy's explanation and demanded it submit
a plan.

"This discussion should have been taking place at least a year ago,"
said Stannard. "Whatever lame excuse they want to offer doesn't hold water."

Stannard said SAFSTOR for 60 years "is not an option for Vermont.
Where is this company going to be in 60 months, never mind 60 years? They
need to be held accountable today, not in 2026 or in 2067."

This whole issue could have been avoided, he added.

"This whole charade of a request to the NRC completely shores up why
it was the biggest mistake of Gov. Jim Douglas' career to veto the
decommissioning bill passed to him by the state Legislature during its last
session."

The Legislature passed a bill in January requiring Entergy to pay
decommissioning costs in full by 2012. Douglas vetoed the bill on the
grounds it was bad for business in Vermont.

Entergy expects that 3,719 assemblies will be transported to Nevada if
the plant ceases operation in 2012. If the plant receives approval to
continue operation to 2032, more than 1,500 additional assemblies will be
generated.

In 2017, the Department of Energy plans to begin moving the waste from
Vernon to a repository in Nevada. Entergy projects that all fuel would be
removed from the site by 2O42. Until then, spent fuel would be kept in the
reactor building's fuel pool or in dry cask storage on site.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311,
ext. 273.