VY Future – Biomass & Natural Gas?

If you follow Vermont Yankee news, you know that some days (hopefully after you’ve had your first cup of Joe), you open the paper or check your VY Google Alert and … SURPRISE! Cooling towers collapse. Electrical fires. Radiation leaks. Lying executives. VT Yankee is closing. Pipe bomb.

Compost happens.

This morning’s wake up call is a biomass proposal for the site after closure. With a natural gas component. The town of Vernon is already seeing tax dollar signs and is agog with delight. Read all about it in the Reformer.

Here’s a few first thoughts:

improved access to natural gas resources — either through rail delivery of (liquefied natural gas) supplies or by pipeline through neighboring Massachusetts

— would this be tied into the proposed Tennessee Gas pipeline that would run through hundreds of acres of private, locally owned land, wetlands, and other sensitive ecosystems?

— who’s excited about gas traveling the rails?

According to Patty O’Donnell, “There’s a lot that can’t be used, because it’s considered ‘dirty,’ and the NRC is going to regulate that it all be taken apart and moved away,” she said. “But the stack can be used, the cooling towers can be used. There are three or four different sites on that land right now (that could be used).

— “Dirty” ??? Radioactive waste is “dirty”?

— Happy for new jobs. But would you want to share work space with 900 tons of radioactive waste? Let’s do some research on environmental health and safety, shall we?

“The Shumlin administration is committed to doing everything possible to help Vernon and the region in a post-VY world,” Spaulding wrote. “The economic-development funds flowing from our agreement with Entergy should be helpful in that regard.

— Entergy’s eco-dev funds are dwarfed by this proposal’s “development costs estimated at $350 million for biomass and upwards of $1 billion for a hybrid facility.”

Bye-bye locally grown, truly green energy development. Hello, huge facility owned by some conglomerate of corporate investors, albeit fronted by a Vermonter.

Perhaps I am just being knee-jerk negative and should pour myself a soothing cup of herbal tea. Give it a read yourself. There may be silver linings beneath all that compost.

By Leslie Sullivan Sachs


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June 1 Update

Why were activists all riled up for the NRC’s public meeting in Brattleboro last week? Here are three reasons.

#1. The NRC didn’t talk about what went wrong at Yankee in 2013-14. This was supposed to be its “annual safety assessment” but, as Clay Turnbull of the New England Coalition wrote,

“Nowhere in print, on a screen or verbally did NRC present the ten violations of 2013 to the public. The violations repeatedly point to management making poor decisions, poor project planning, and cutting costs at the expense of safety.” There are recurring problems – like bad seals that allow water into electric cable housing. The NRC and Entergy are keeping their fingers crossed that it will hold together with just six months left til closure.

#2. The day before the hearing, the NRC declared that spent fuel pools are as safe as dry cask storage, so there is no reason to make companies move the spent fuel into dry casks.

This decision flies in the face of all evidence that dry cask storage is safer. Just look at Fukushima: the highly radioactive fuel in dry casks on site were unaffected by the earthquake and the tsunami, and three years neither the owners nor the international nuclear community know what to do with all the horrific problems created by destroyed fuel pools and widespread radiation from two explosions.

So why did the Commissioners (in bed with the nuclear industry) vote against prompt removal to storage? Money. New casks and storage pads aren’t cheap; the fuel pools are already there and paid for.

How does this affect Vermont Yankee? According to the Rutland Herald, two days after the local hearing:

“Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, criticized the decision by the NRC as “not helpful,” but said Entergy Nuclear had already made a firm commitment to move Yankee’s 3,000 spent fuel rods out of the spent fuel pool and into the casks. Recchia said the NRC decision “flew in the face of good science.”

The same article reported that, according to Entergy’s Rob Williams, “its timetable called for all the fuel to be moved out of the spent fuel pool by 2020, with “loading campaigns” scheduled for 2019 and 2020.

Let’s hope they stick to that plan.

#3. Also last week, the EPA weakened water rules for power plants. It will not require closed cycle cooling for existing power plants. Instead, owners will work with states to figure out how to “reduce the 2 billion fish, crab or shrimp that die each year in water intakes. Environmental advocates said that the agency had punted by leaving decisions with state regulators, and they threatened to sue to force tougher action.” The new rule is the result of 20 years of litigation; Riverkeeper, NRDC and 18 other environmental groups sued the EPA in 1993 to make power producer comply with the Clean Water Act. Entergy is one of the nuclear and coal industries that pressured the EPA against mandatory closed cycle cooling. They are pleased with the new rule.

Vermont has avoided decided on Yankee’s zombie permit for decades. This is a big disappointment to those of us who have taken to the river to get Yankee to use its cooling towers.

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NRC Wrap Up

16 NRC representatives faced a mostly hostile crowd of 60 local citizens on Wednesday evenin’s annual safety assessment of Vermont Yankee. Many who attended were feeling the sting of the NRC decision, announced the day before, that spent fuel could ‘safely’ sit in the over-crowded fuel pools rather than be moved to dry casks storage. VPR the Keene Sentinel and Brattleboro Refomer covered the hearing, as did Greenfield Recorder and the Rutland Herald (paywalled so we can’t share those here).

The NRC’s opening program included a simplistic ten minute slide show presentation on decommissioning. The NRC was clearly not prepared to respond to educated citizens who follow the issues closely, and have attended three-hour workshops of their own. Schuyler Gould of Barre, Lissa Weinmann, Clay Turnbull, Diana Sidebotthom and others came prepared with lists of recurring safety issues at the reactor; they were brushed off by the NRC.   Bill Dean, the Region 1 head administrator, was unprepared for the heat. His claim that he could “personally assure” us of our safety” was met with skepticism and accusations of lying.  He took that personally.

Here’s a typical scene, courtesy of the Keene Sentinel:

John A. Ward of Gill, Mass., asked panelists if they knew how many spent fuel rods the pool at Vermont Yankee was originally designed to hold. A brief delay followed as NRC officials consulted each other.

“Come on! You can do it!” Sachs taunted.

Rutenkroger finally said the number was between 500 and 600.

Ward then asked how many rods were there now, and what ratio it had increased by.

Rutenkroger said about 3,900 spent fuel rods are in the pool now, about seven or eight times as many as the pool had originally been designed to handle, although he assured Ward that each time Entergy proposed adding more rods to the pool, they had to meet certain NRC requirements to do so.

Undeterred by rules against signs and such, he Shut It Down ladies brought new toys to the hearing: cheap buttons bought at Staples that laugh loudly when pressed.

This is most likely the last time the NRC will be in town until it hosts a community forum to respond to Entergy’s decommissioning plan, in a couple years.


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May 28: NRC Hearing Talking Points

NRC DOG & PONY SHOW May 28: aka Annual Assessment Meeting for Vermont Yankee. (6:30-8:30, BUHS, directions below). According to the Brattleboro Reformer (5.20.14) “The meeting will include a brief presentation on the decommissioning process followed by a formal question-and-answer session regarding plant performance and regulatory oversight topics.” If the NRC can talk about decommissioning, so can we. Without any formal role for citizens in the process, we need to take every opportunity to get in the record. With that in mind, we offer a few suggestions for talking points by those of us living in the evacuation zone.
  • We are the ones most at risk from a nuclear accident. The NRC should protect the public, not the nuclear industry’s profits.
  • People living in the evacuation zone deserve a seat at the decommissioning decision making table. The NRC should support the “Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014,” a Senate bill put forth by Senators Sanders, Markey and Boxer.
  • People living in the evacuation zone deserve emergency planning protection during decommissioning.  The NRC should support the “Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014,” a Senate bill put forth by Senators Sanders, Markey and Boxer. It would “would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from issuing exemptions from its emergency response or security requirements for spent fuel stored at nuclear reactors that have permanently shut down until all of the spent nuclear fuel stored at the site has been moved into dry casks, which are a more secure and safe option for storage. “
  • People living in the evacuation zone deserve prompt removal of spent fuel from the overstuffed fuel pools, not the sixty year grace period allowed by SAFSTOR. The NRC should support “Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014″.

Read more about the three Senate bills here.

  • If you want to talk “safety” take a look at our VY Time Line  for 2014 and for Timeline 2013 for Yankee issues. Here’s a sample:
  • A conduit flood seal between an exterior manhole and the switchgear room failed. 2 feet of water is found in the conduit below the switchgear room, which are centers for electrical cables going from the control room to other parts of the reactor.  Two additional water infiltration areas were found later. NRC inspection found that water from a dredging operation did leak into manholes leading to “vital” switchgear rooms. The plant was closed at the time for refueling. (March 19-22 2013)
  • Four times in June and July, monitors registered “false positives” for high radiation. (July 25 2013)
  • Another radiation monitor had faulty readings in the week prior to published reports on Monday, August 26 2013. The NRC said in a letter to the state that “the most recent incident involved a radiation detector that was replaced in the last month.
  • A leak occurred in in a key safety system, the “high pressure coolant injection system,” and released a “small amount of radioactivity” within the reactor building, was reported to the NRC and was repaired. (Sept. 19 2013).
  • A low-level alarm of low oil levels was discovered to be a loose compression fitting on a recirculation pump’s motor oil reservoir. Power was reduced to 14% while repairs made. (Sept. 24-25 2013).
  • “On 11/7/13, it was identified that a missing conduit flood seal between an outside manhole and the West switchgear room compromised the flooding design of both the East and West switchgear rooms. Repair of the seal is in progress…. internal flooding of both Switchgear Rooms could affect (a.) safe shutdown, (b.) removal of decay heat, (c.) control of release of radioactive material and (d.) mitigating an accident.” NRC event notification report (Nov. 8 2013)
  • Entergy blames a contractor for failing to make repairs to missing flood seals (see March above).
  • VT Yankee blew a fuse in an electrical control circuit for the condenser steam jet air ejectors, requiring the reactor to reduce power for a few hours. (Jan. 21 2014)
  • NRC’s quarterly inspection report of VT Yankee (Feb. 6 2014)
    • includes a “green” low level safety violation for failing to make a repair in a timely manner (“the deficient flooding pathways designed to withstand a flood event.” See leaky flood seal, March and November 2013).
    • indicates reduced reporting (of 22.5%) by workers for the month before and month after the closure announcement. The state is also reviewing the report.
  • VT Yankee reduced power to 32% to repair two of its three feed water pumps because the seals were leaking. (FVT Agency of Natural Resources says Vermont Yankee is not in compliance with Clean Water Act or state water quality standards. Brattleboro Reformer. (April 8).eb. 24-25 2014).
  • On Nov. 4 2013, a worker called police when a ” ‘suspicious item’ that resembled a pipe bomb” was discovered. Upon arrival, the police officer recommended the bomb squad be called in, but instead “Entergy employees duct taped a piece of string to the pipe, stood back and pulled the string to see if it ‘went off,’ according to the report.” VtDigger.org (March 21)
  • VT Agency of Natural Resources says Vermont Yankee is not in compliance with Clean Water Act or state water quality standards. Brattleboro Reformer. (April 8 2014).
  • Yankee burped radioactive steam Times Argus (April 30 2014

The NRC’s public hearing is at 6:30pm in at Brattleboro Union High School. It is in the Auditorium so they must be expecting a crowd.  There will be security bag checks at the door. Also, signs, banners, posters and displays affixed to any sticks, poles, or other similar devices will not be permitted in the meeting room.” Here is a Map link for directions.

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VSNAP Triples Size of Panel

Those on the VT State Nuclear Advisory Panel’s listserve received the following email , announcing that it invites recommendations for the 6 new citizen members to the panel. Note the word “Advisory” in VSNAP’s panel. While informed folks can argue about the effectiveness of the panel in the past, given NRC rules, any state or citizen involvement is limited to an advisory role – if any role at all. Let’s work to ensure that the 6 citizen appointees are committed to prompt, safe and thorough decommissioning.

Dear Interested VSNAP Participants,
On December 23, 2013, when announcing the Settlement Agreement between the State of Vermont and Entergy, Governor Shumlin committed to expanding VSNAP to make it a more citizen-focused decommissioning advisory panel.  As a result of the Public Service Board’s approval of the MOU last month, and the full effectuation of the Settlement Agreement, language to accomplish this objective was adopted by the legislature and included in the budget bill H.885 (Relevant sections attached).
In general, the changes are to make the panel focused on the decommissioning process at VY and its economic impact on the area, rather than all nuclear issues in the state.  It adds:
-          6 citizen members (appointed by Governor, Pro Tem and Speaker – 2 each),
-          1 Representative of the Windham Regional Commission
-          1 Town of Vernon representative,
-          2 representatives of VY,
-          1 IBEW member (current or former worker at VY),
-          a representative each from MA and NH, appointed by their respective Governors.
-          the Secretary of Commerce and Community Development (ex officio).
This expands the panel from 7 to 21.
I wanted to make you aware of these proposed positive changes, and to seek recommendations to fill the citizen slots on the panel.
We will be scheduling a meeting for the new panel over the Summer, so please do send your suggestions or contact the relevant appointing authority with your expression of interest.  I am excited about this new phase of the VY process, and look forward to your continuing participation.
Thank you,
Chris  [Recchia, Commissioner, VT Dept. of Public Service]
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Yes! Our Senators are Acting

UPDATE: May 14 Congressional hearing on decommissioning nuclear reactors – watch the full hearing on the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works here. [Note it begins at 0:15:50]. VTDigger and Rutland Herald covered the hearing. VT Dept of Public Service Chris Recchia testified (pdf here). “We were hamstrung in the ability to negotiate (with Entergy) … there were things we weren’t able to agree on, things NRC has allowed,” he said. “Vermont was not well-served by the NRC’s past decisions and current approach. We negotiated with our hands tied behind our backs.” There is also good testimony from the City of Del Mar, CA which hosts San Onofre reactors, on high burn up fuel and dry casks, and from NRDC. The hearing and testimony covered not only the lack of local participation in decommissioning reactors, but moving spent fuel in a timely manner and emergency planning post-closure. Read on for three bills put before Congress by Senators Sanders, Markey & Boxer to deal with these issues.

5.13.14 post: US Senators Bernie Sanders & Ed Markey have been listening to you. They are co-sponsoring two bills: one which gives local communities and states more input into decommissioning; the second requires moving spent fuel out of fuel pools and into secure storage within 7 years. US Rep. Peter Welch has introduced similar bills to the House.

Last January, Safe & Green members went to Washington and spoke with the energy staffers of the Mass. and Vermont House and Senate delegations. We told them that giving citizens and states a voice in decommissioning was our first priority, and second was moving and securing the spent fuel. Please write to the delegation and express your thanks for hearing citizens’ concerns. Ask you friends to do the same.

Sen. Markey has a description of the bills on his website here. Read Sen. Sanders’ thoughts on website here. Tomorrow (Wednesday May 14) the Senate oversight committee of the NRC will hold a hearing on decommissioning at 10 AM. You can watch at http://www.epw.senate.gov Commissioner of the VT Dept. of Public Service Chris Recchia will be testifying.

We also spoke with the staff about evacuation zones, and they deserve thanks for following up on that issue as well. Since our meeting, Entergy applied to the NRC for an exemption to EPZ coverage beyond it’s site, and Senators Markey and Sanders immediately called them out.

Please email or call today. The fight will be fierce as many in the House and Senate are pro-nuclear —  or are being pressured by the nuclear corporate lobbyists, the NEI, who will also testify tomorrow).

Senator Bernie Sanders (VT 802-862-0697 http://sanders.senate.gov (on US Senate oversight committee for nuclear power)
Senator Ed Markey (MA) 202-224-2742 http://www.markey.senate.gov/ (on US Senate oversight committee for nuclear power)
Congressman Peter Welch (VT) 802-652-2450 http://welch.house.gov

Chris Recchia, Commissioner / VT Public Service Dept. / 112 State Street Third Floor, Montpelier, VT 05620-2601 /Phone: 802 828-4071

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Meeting Alert!

2 May Meetings:  (1)  * NRC Annual Dog and Pony Show : Wednesday, May 28, 6:30-8:30pm, at Brattleboro Union High School’s Auditorium.  (2) VT Clean Energy Development Board public meeting on how to Windham County’s share of the $5.3 million at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14 in Brattleboro Union High School’s multipurpose room. Half of Entergy’s contribution is earmarked specifically for Windham County: Brattleboro Reformer article  http://vtdigger.org/2014/05/08/

NRC DOG & PONY SHOW May 28:  * Annual Assessment Meeting for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station) Here is a Map link for directions.
They must be expecting a crowd since it is in the Auditorium.  The meeting is described as “a Q&A session to discuss the NRC’s assessment of safety performance at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station for 2013, as described in the NRC annual assessment letter dated March 4, 2014.  The NRC will be available to respond to questions on specific performance issues at the plant and our role in ensuring safe plant operations. ”
Shut It Down ladies with masks of former NRC Commissioner Jaczko, who says our BWR nuke should be immediately closed post-Fukushima.

Shut It Down ladies with masks of former NRC Commissioner Jaczko, who says our BWR nuke should be immediately closed post-Fukushima.

Note that: signs, banners, posters and displays affixed to any sticks, poles, or other similar devices will not be permitted in the meeting room.”



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Dept. of Energy & Our Safety

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) has been found at fault for the leaks of radiation into the air at the Carlsbad, New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February. 21 employees were affected, contaminated by levels of radiation. Poor training by and they did

  • “… the department measured safety performance by the number of reports of deficiencies – instead of the significance of the issues.”
  • “Directly tying performance to the number of occurrence reports drives the contractor to non-disclosure of events in order to avoid the poor score,” the report says.

The local paper, Las Cruces News, covers the story in more detail here. “Shortcomings were found at almost every step, from a more than 10-hour response to the initial emergency alarm to a bypass in the filtration system that allowed the radiation to escape above ground.

“The bottom line is they failed to believe initial indications of the release,” Wyka said.”


The DOE is the agency that will be safeguarding the nuclear waste at Vermont Yankee. How can we trust the DOE to do its job?

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EPZ: Your Voices Were Heard

VT Senators Pat Leahy, Bernie Sanders and MA Senator Markey joined other Senators in a letter to the NRC pointing out their folly in permitting nuclear reactors to cease emergency planning once a reactor stops producing power, but before it is fully decommissioned. We asked you to write on April 9, to the NRC, Senators, and emergency planners — please go to the link again, this time to thank the Senators for their action and encourage them to keep the pressure on.

We noticed that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has not signed the letter. Mass residents – please contact her office and encourage her to join her colleagues in the Senate, and voice her opinion to the NRC. Call her office in Springfield  (413) 788-2690 and DC (202) 224-4543 and use her form on the web to send comments.

Read the Press Release from the Senators, which includes a link to the Senators’ letter to the NRC.  The Brattleboro Reformer covers the story here and a (Springfield, Mass.) Republican editorial is here.

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May 6: Gala Opening of “Taking Power”

Joni Mitchell sang “paved paradise and put up a nuclear hot spot” on May 6, 1979 when almost 100,000 people marched on Washington DC, calling for an end of nuclear power and promoting renewables. Since that time, not one new reactor has generated power in the United States.  To celebrate 35 years of success, “Taking Power: Photographs from the People’s Movement to Shut Down Vermont Yankee” will be opening Tuesday, May 6 from 5:00PM-7:00PM at Green Fields Market, Main Street in Greenfield.

Three outstanding photographers’ work will be on display through the month of May. At the opening, photographers Lionel Delevingne and David Shaw and members of the exhibit’s sponsors, the Safe and Green Campaign, will be on hand to talk about the context of the photos and the successful struggle to close Vermont Yankee. Refreshments will be served. For more info about the photographers, read our event listing here.

Greenfield Photo Exhibit & Gala

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