For the Gazette
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — Sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to NorthStar Group Services to speed its decommissioning and demolition would yield the first “turn-key” project of this kind for NorthStar and its partners.
NorthStar officials told a Vermont advisory panel last week that their plan would ensure the plant’s current decommissioning fund would be adequate for the job, something that would not necessarily hold true for the plant’s current owner, Entergy.
Entergy and NorthStar officials explained details of the planned sale and decommissioning to the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel this week.
T. Michael Twomey, Entergy’s vice president for external affairs, told the panel, “We’re not in the decommissioning business … That’s not a core competency for us, and we’re not interested, quite frankly, in being in that business.”
Entergy hopes to complete the sale by the end of 2018 and begin decommissioning by the end of 2021 and complete it by the end of 2030, rather than the originally envisioned 2075.
A “guaranteed fixed payment system” would obligate NorthStar to perform each component of cleanup and restoration using fixed payments for each of more than 900 discrete project elements, NorthStar CEO Scott E. State told the panel.
The approach for paying from Vermont Yankee’s current trust fund of about $560 million is unique, State said.
“We believe that it’s really a decommissioning dream team that we’ve been able to put together here,” said State, referring to Paris-based Areva’s focus on segmentation of reactor vessels and internal components, Missouri-based engineering firm Burns & McConnell and Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists’ specialty of radioactive waste management, transportation and disposal.
“We will never draw out of the trust account more money than has been assigned as a cost to do that piece of work,” he said.
Twomey told the panel Entergy plans to file with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission by end of this month for license transfer, and said, “We believe that their approach and the team structure and financial assurance they provide really is the best opportunity to get this site moving forward.”
State and Twomey both told the panel that NorthStar, as “the largest company in the world that does this” work of demolition, decommissioning and abatement, has experience and efficiencies that Entergy does not.
NorthStar plans to invest in the rail line near the plant, which shut down two years ago, to be able to move plant components by rail, said State.
Also, State said, NorthStar will take a “unique” approach to working on site restoration on a parallel track with its radiological decommissioning rather than afterward. That, too, he said, will make the project more efficient.
Vermont’s Public Service Board will be left to decide whether the sale of the plant to NorthStar is in the public’s interest. It must also adopt site restoration standards that would guide how the Vernon reactor site will be left.
Twomey also announced that “technological improvements” discovered by Entergy and its waste storage contractor, Holtec International, will allow Entergy to cut, by a year to a year-and-a-half, the original five-year timeline for moving spent fuel from the spent fuel pool to dry cask storage.
“There are important savings to the decommissioning trust fund,” he said, adding that Entergy will need NRC approval to expedite the process.
State Sen. Mark MacDonald, a member of the panel, raised concerns that undisclosed financial arrangements for the sale could leave the state vulnerable if decommissioning costs are greater than anticipated or the decommissioning trust fund doesn’t grow as fast as expected — especially if the NRC or state Public Service Board doesn’t provide financial assurances are in place.
“The reason that we’re in the dilemma we’re in now is that the NRC didn’t require money to be set aside for decommissioning, and the NRC prohibits the state from requiring that money be set aside for decommissioning,” MacDonald said.
He called for the state making assurances “to protect Vermonters” if the NRC approves the proposal “only to find out it didn’t have the money guarantees in it?”
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