News

Spent fuel pool review?

May 6 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Bob Audette Brattleboro
> Reformer, Vt.
>
> The Vermont Attorney General is jumping into the fray and asking
> the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to force the Nuclear
> Regulatory Commission to evaluate the environmental impacts of storing
> nuclear waste in Vermont Yankee's spent fuel pool.
>
> Attorney General William Sorrell and the Vermont Department of
> Public Service jointly filed a motion to intervene in Massachusetts
> Attorney General Martha Coakley's request that the NRC change the way
> it evaluates spent fuel pools from a generic review to plant-specific
> basis.
>
> Coakley's office is concerned about the dangers of storing spent
> fuel aboveground in fuel pools located in the same building as nuclear
> reactors at Pilgrim nuclear station in Plymouth, Mass., and at Yankee,
> which is located in Vernon just a few miles north of the state line.
>
> Entergy, which owns and operates both Yankee and Pilgrim, has
> applied to the NRC to extend the operating licenses of both plants for
> another 20 years.
>
> Yankee is scheduled to close in 2012.
>
> In addition to NRC approval, Entergy must also receive a
> certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board and
> the OK from the Vermont State Legislature.
>
> Currently, during relicensing procedures the NRC reviews the
> storage of spent fuel on a generic basis. That's just not good enough
> anymore, stated Sorrell.
>
> "New information indicates that the risk of catastrophic fires in
> spent-fuel pools is much higher than previously thought," he stated,
> in a press release announcing the filing. "The public needs assurance
> that this information will be considered by the NRC as part of Vermont
> Yankee's application for re-licensing."
>
> The concern over terrorism and sabotage combined with a 2006
> National Academy of Sciences report led the attorney general and DPS
> to file the request for intervenor status, said Sarah Hofmann, public
> advocate for DPS.
> The report concluded that an attack on a reactor building could result
> in a fire releasing large amounts of radioactivity into the
> environment.
>
> Last year, the Massachusetts attorney general's office asked the
> NRC to re-evaluate the rule that calls for generic reviews of spent
> fuel pools but the request was denied.
>
> Coakley's office is appealing the NRC's decision to the Second
> Court of Appeals.
>
> Sorrell's office filed a friend of the court brief in support of
> Coakley's filing on Tuesday, said Rebecca Ellis, a Vermont assistant
> attorney general, and is also asking the court to let the state become
> an official intervenor in the proceedings.
>
> "We'd rather be an intervenor," she said.
>
> Because Yankee is located in Vermont, it seems only appropriate
> that the court allow the state to intervene, said Ellis.
>
> A spokesman for Vermont Yankee said the plant's structures are
> designed to withstand massive internal and external forces such as
> earthquakes and tornadoes.
>
> "The combination of robust design and intensive security make
> nuclear plants the best defended industrial facilities that are part
> of the nation's infrastructure," said Rob Williams.
>
> Entergy's license renewal petition is consistent with federal and
> state regulations, said Williams.
>
> "The attorney general's issue with the regulations was
> appropriately addressed at the commission level and the states are
> certainly within their rights to pursue an appeal," he said.
>
> "In the debate over Vermont Yankee's re-licensing, the NRC should
> invite an in-depth discussion over the safety of spent-fuel pools,"
> stated
> Sorrell. "Cutting off debate undermines the public's confidence in the
> federal regulatory system and hinders good decision making."
>
> The NRC believes spent fuel storage issues should be addressed on
> an ongoing basis, not just during that snapshot period of time when a
> license renewal application is under consideration, said Neil Sheehan,
> spokesman for the NRC.
>
> The NRC also reviewed spent fuel safety and security following
> Sept.
> 11, 2001, he said.
>
> "The NRC determined there was reasonable assurance that
> appropriate safeguards were in place. We also imposed new requirements
> for plant personnel response capabilities if there were to be a fire
> or explosion at the site."
>
> The NRC's stand on this issue is contradictory, said Rep. Sarah
> Edwards, P-Brattleboro, a member of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory
> Panel.
>
> "The attorney general's request is reasonable because of a
> statement by the NRC that it wants to see all new power plants built
> in a way that is better able to withstand a terrorist attack."
>
> During public hearings on Yankee's relicensing, many of those
> opposed to the 20-year extension have pointed to the dangers of
> storing nuclear waste on site, both in the fuel pool and in dry casks
> stored in a Connecticut River 100-year flood plain, a concern that DPS
> has recognized, said Hofmann.
>
> "This is an issue that needs to be openly discussed," she said.
> "The
> world has changed since Sept. 11. We ought to be realistic about that
> change."
>
> "We commend Attorney General Sorrell for stepping up to the plate
> on behalf of Vermont," said Bob Stannard, spokesman for Citizens
> Awareness Network, which opposes the relicensing of Yankee.
>
> Stannard agreed that the NRC's old rules, in place before Sept.
> 11,
> 2001, are outdated and don't reflect the reality of today.
>
> While Stannard was pleased by the attorney general's filing, he
> was also dismayed that state governments have to spend precious
> resources asking for a rule change that the NRC should be making on
> its own.
>
> "Why should we have to beg a regulatory agency to look at
> something as serious as this issue?" he asked. "It's ridiculous that
> we have to ask."
>
> Nevertheless, states have to file with the courts because the NRC
> is "really not trustworthy," he said.
>
> Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or
> 802-254-2311, ext. 273.