The NRC’s Magic Wand

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Dear Friends of the Safe and Green Campaign,

The last weekend in June has provided an opportunity to write to you without distraction. It was a powerful week of change in the US. Here’s what’s going on in our little corner of the world.

The NRC Magic Wand of Exemption

If you’ve been following along, you know that there aren’t any rules for decommissioning. Instead, the NRC waves its magic wand and lets reactors stop following the rules for operating. This is pretty dern frustrating for citizens and the State. At a May pubic meeting, Commissioner Chris Recchia called the NRC decommissioning process “stupid, stupid, stupid.”

At this week’s NDCAP meeting (below), Commissioner Chris Recchia said, “There is a blatant inconsistency between what the regulations say the Decommissioning Trust Fund can be, and what the NRC is actually allowing” such as using the fund for emergency planning, taxes, and now spent fuel. While the NRC’s waiver of its own regs is consistent with what is being done at other closed reactors, Recchia said “it’s unbelievable what the NRC is doing.” He’s working with the Attorney General and “fully expects that Vermont will lead the charge, with other states” in taking on the NRC’s decommissioning rules. “The NRC process is broken and needs to be fixed.”

Why is the State of Vermont spitting mad? This week, the NRC took out its Super Magic Wand and waived one of the few rules on its decommissioning books: use of the Decommissioning Trust Fund.

The NRC rules defines decommissioning as the “safely removing a facility or site from service and reducing residual radioactivity to a level that permits” either unlimited or limited use of the site. Small problem: there is nowhere to move the radioactive waste to. 70 years of nuclear technology and there is still no solution to what to do with the waste. So, last year the NRC decided, in its Waste Confidence decision (aka ‘Waste Con’ as in con job), that highly radioactive nuclear waste can safely live at nuclear power sites for 100 years. This leaves 900 plus tons of waste here in Vernon, Vermont. How is storing, monitoring and guarding it paid for?

By waiving the NRC’s Super Magic Wand, Entergy can use the decommissioning trust fund for all those expenses. Entergy has a $145 million line of credit to move the fuel (which it will recover from the DOE). Once that’s gone, the NRC will let Entergy take up to $223 million from the DTF to manage the fuel. That $223 is about 1/3 of the entire DTF as it now stands.

To add insult to injury, the NRC said Entergy could take it out of the fund without the usual 30-day notice to the NRC. So get ready for a RAID on the DTF you and I built with our electric rates until Entergy came along.

Now, with only 2/3 of the funds (left to its chances on the stock market), when will the actual decommissioning of Yankee happen? Entergy swears it will do it as soon as there is enough money … until then, its putting the reactor in mothballs and leaving a skeleton crew to guard the waste.

(Here’s a scary scenario: Entergy builds the storage, moves all the fuel into the dry casks, then declares bankruptcy. With all the levels of LLCs between Vermont Yankee Nuclear and the mothership in New Orleans, no one knows what would happen.)

Green Mtn. Daily 06.22.15: NRC Never Fails to Disappoint Vermonters

Reformer 06.26.15: VT Official: Yankee Trust Fund Process is Broken

Rutland Herald 06.19.15: NRC Sides with Entergy on Yankee Trust Fund

Rutland Herald 06.20.15: Vt Seeks Regional Support to Challenge the NRC

Vt Digger 06.18.15: NRC says Entergy can use DTF for Spent Fuel

Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel (NDCAP)

This past Thursday the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel met in Brattleboro. 30 citizens showed up. So did the CEO and President of Holtec International, Dr. Krishna Singh and his entourage. [Read more about him here.] The meeting facilitation was good, with ample time for questions from the public.

The two Entergy VPs aren’t talking much (methinks their lawyers have told them to lay low while Entergy is before the Public Service Board).The other members are feeling more confident about making their voices heard. They grilled Joe Lynch, Entergy’s presenter, on its latest (unannounced, June 10) hostile action drill. (NDCAP Final Presentation June 25 2015 power point under the NDCAP tab).

State Rep. David Deen was frustrated. “We have no clue what went on, and what people did. Did you drill the emergency alert system? Did the sirens go off? I haven’t heard anything about it.” Commish Recchia is “growing less and less patient with the NRC’s approach to spent fuel – it’s as safe in the pool as in dry cask storage, but you need to do two hostile action drills?”

Chris Campany of Windham Regional Commission said that on August 13, some towns in the EPZ will come together to talk about how to operate without radiological alert funding.

Dr. Singh’s presentation was what one would expect from a well-paid CEO of a huge international corporation. He was a salesman: slick, quick and dismissive of any danger. You can download his powerpoint from Entergy’s page under the NDCAP tab, here: HI-STORM-MPC-Storage-System-for-Vermont-Yankee-R4

  • These Holtec 100 Storm casks will never Look, welds not gaskets! They are the most robust in the industry. (I counted 5 uses of the word Robust in the power point but may have missed one or two).
  • They are good for 300 years! (“You can’t reassure me until you’ve lived that long, said Deb Katz. She pointed out that Holtec casks have only been in service for 15 years.
  • High burn up fuel? None at Yankee … oops, oh, you do use HBF? Ah well, no problem. Our casks can handle it.
  • Singh was so glad we asked about the shipment of casks in 2006 which had not undergone helium leak rate tests required by the NRC. Singh said, essentially, our tests are better than the NRCs, the NRC doesn’t require those tests anymore. (According to the Reformer 08.13.09: “Holtec’s decision to eliminate the test was a violation of NRC regulations … We required that they take immediate corrective actions.” The AP did a good analysis and also noted that Entergy “was not doing as much radiological monitoring of the dry casks as was required by an agreement with the state…the failure to establish a radiation monitoring process was due to ‘a lack of formal tracking of such state commitments,’ according to Vermont Yankee.”
  • Speaking of which, Nancy Braus grilled him on radiological monitoring. Singh said that’s not Holtec’s job. They make recommendations, but it is up to Entergy and the NRC.
  • It was reassuring to hear him say that Vermont’s radiological levels are the lowest he’s encountered, lower even than European limits. (According to Holtec, the casks will emit 5 ML of radiation – lower even than terrestrial background radiation.)

You can read press coverage about the meeting by the Keene Sentinel and in some of the articles above.

At the Diablo Canyon reactor in California, the owners violated NRC specifications for loading dry casks for SIX YEARS before the owners or NRC noticed. They loaded casks 19 times before somebody caught on. [06.24.15: Read more about it here and in their local newspaper here.] “PG&E did not load 19 of its 34 used fuel dry storage casks according to a technical specification made by the casks’ manufacturer, Holtec International, regarding the proper mixture of older and newer spent fuel to ensure proper heat dissipation.” This included high burnup fuel.

The owners, PG&E, said the problem was “administrative in nature, not safety related… The specification was outdated and has been removed.”

This is the same line Dr. Singh gave about the missed helium test for Yankee’s casks. As Ray Shadis said back then, there is “a trend in the nuclear industry to operate on the belief that safety margins are excessive and that one can reduce them or take chances in not going the full distance.”

The NRC and the industry have become so used to handling ‘SNF’ that it has become just another ‘product.’ For our safety and worker safety, we need oversight that is conscious that this is 900+ tons of highly radioactive waste. We are obviously not going to get that from Holtec, Entergy or the NRC.

 Advisory Panel Preparing to Advise

Following the Holtec presentation and Q&A, the panel took on discussion about how to advise the state, what process to use, and what topics to cover. Dr. Bill Irwin, VT Dept. of Health, summed up our thoughts: “We’ve been reacting, going through growing pains for the first six months. Now we are at a great point to do our core mission, advising the state.” Irwin submitted a list of topics the panel could consider for the PSB case. Kate O’Connor, the chair, spoke with the state’s attorney on the PSB case on the pad, Aaron Kisicki, who said comments from the panel would be given significant weight by the PSB. David Mears, Commissioner of the VT Dept. of Environmental Conservation, said that the panel needs to hear from independent experts; only industry experts have spoken. The panel renewed its contract with consultant Catherine Morris, who may be able to help with process. Kate O’Connor, David Deen, Chris Campany, and Jim Matteau volunteered to form a committee.

The panel then heard more comments from the public, including Susan Lantz, Peter Vanderdoes, Amy Shollenberg, Frances Crowe, Howard Shaefer, Bert Picard, and Clay Turnbull. Clay suggested that the panel think from a new perspective: “what is the ultimate best use of the site? Actions we take now will affect that. Is the best and highest use to have a high level radioactive waste site on that beautiful site in Vernon, on the banks of the river? Or is there a better piece of property for the waste?”

After taking the summer off, the next NDCAP meeting will be September 24. The Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection will make a presentation on the decommissioning of Rowe Yankee.

Safe and Green Campaign is not taking the summer off. Our next steering committee meeting is Monday, July 6 at 5:30pm, starting with a pot luck supper. Email for directions if you would like to join us.

Since we last wrote two weeks ago, we:

– Joined Rising Tide & on June 22 for their demo at the Public Service Board. 100+ folks marched and rallied, and a bunch of hardy young folks camped out overnight next to the PSB office. We were calling on the PSB to not allow a gas pipeline planned to run down the western corridor of Vermont. The project is not safe, overbudget, and the company is taking land by eminent domain. Safe & Green and Post-Oil Solutions members traveled up from Windham County in solidarity. It was great to march with fellow Safe & Green activists from central Vermont, Vt Yankee Decommissioning Alliance (VYDA) and Nuclear Info Research Service (NIRS). You can see photos and read about it on our Facebook page here (even if you are not a Facebook member).

– Joined the New England Coalition and other allies for our third meeting on decommissioning. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 1 at the Brattleboro Food Coop Community Room 6:30-8:30pm.

– Updated our website’s Decommissioning Resources page, and our Action Center page with CAN’s list of bills before the Mass. Legislature on nuclear energy issues. Please also check our website regularly for posts on the homepage. . For daily posts on Yankee, nuclear power in the US and the world, and the latest good news on renewables, Like & Follow our Facebook page


Leslie Sullivan Sachs for the Safe & Green Campaign

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