VY Closure & Decommissioning Issues

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  • 2017 SALE PROPOSAL Key Issues

    Link to PSB Docket # 8880        Links to NRC & PSB Documents

    New Download: Sale bullets basic info 2017 (05.05.17)

    Safe and Green Campaign Principles for Safely Decommissioning Vermont Yankee 

    March 6 2017 

    Executive Summary

    The proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar Group Services LLC is the first of its kind. Never before has an owner sold a reactor after shutdown and before decommissioning. Vermont Yankee will be the testing ground for NorthStar LLC to sell itself to the US nuclear industry as a firm that can make decommissioning profitable.

    The Safe and Green Campaign neither supports nor opposes the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar LLC. Rather, Safe and Green supports the best deal for our region, the United States, and the planet.

    The best deal would be one that is presented with full transparency to the public in language we can understand. It would include enforceable assurances that:

    • The site standards will be the best that can be accomplished for public health and the environment, not to fit a budget projected by NorthStar.
    • The storage of the highly radioactive spent fuel will allow for ongoing, long-term monitoring of radiation levels, using the best available casks, contained in a building or bermed with soil, and strongly guarded against attack.
    • The high-level waste will be not transported anywhere on our poorly maintained roads and railways   until the US creates permanent, safe, long-term storage.
    • The Public Service Board will conduct “extreme vetting” of NorthStar’s finances and the nature of its relationship with its decommissioning team, and that Vermont taxpayers will be shielded from the costs of any poor decisions made.
    • NorthStar and its team will be strictly monitored during decommissioning by an independent entity, not only the NRC.

    Prompt decommissioning gives us the opportunity to act as the stewards of the radioactive materials created at Vermont Yankee, rather than passing the financial, environmental, and public health burdens on to our children and grandchildren. Ethically, this is the right time. Now, we need to ensure we hire the right people to do the job.

    Decommissioning Principles as of 03.04.2017

    The proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar Group Services LLC is the first of its kind. Never before has an owner sold a reactor outright to be decommissioned. Vermont Yankee will be the testing ground for NorthStar LLC to sell itself to the US nuclear industry as a firm that can make decommissioning profitable.  

    Safe and Green neither supports nor opposes the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar LLC. Rather, Safe and Green supports the best deal for our region. Because we will be a testing ground for a new decommissioning approach, we also want the best deal for all of our fellow citizens throughout the United States and the world, and for our planet. State regulators and the public need to be educated about what is being considered and act as watchdogs of this process. Safe and Green will focus on issues of long- and short-term storage of radioactive waste, local control vs. corporate control, regulatory capture, and environmental racism, all topics relevant to this deal. 

    In 2014, in response to Entergy’s announcement that it would close Vermont Yankee, the Safe and Green Campaign articulated five Decommissioning Principles that still hold true. Briefly, we called for: 

    1. The safe and prompt decontamination and restoration of the site for productive use.
    2. Moving all spent fuel from the pool to on-site dry cask storage as soon as is viable.
    3. The long-term containment and safeguarding of the highly radioactive waste removed from the reactor.
    4. An independent environmental assessment of contamination at the site.
    5. Fulfillment of Entergy’s pledge to fully fund the costs of the cleanup and restoration of the Vermont Yankee site.

    On the surface, the proposed terms of the sale to NorthStar make it seem possible that these Principles will be met to some degree. But the devil is in the details – details that Entergy and NorthStar, along with the corporations it will be working with (Waste Control Specialists, AREVA, and Burns & McDonnell), must share fully and with transparency in order to demonstrate that they will be good corporate partners with the state and the public in the decommissioning process.  

     There is much reason for concern in this regard. During its time in Vermont, Entergy has lied and covered up, and it has earned our distrust. NorthStar is new to Vermont, but we already see indications that it is not fully disclosing information that is important for the public to know. Further, the simple fact that these are for-profit companies creates incentive to do the decommissioning and restoration as cheaply as possible, not as safely as possible. With minimal regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and with limited authority held by the State of Vermont over their decisions, the corporations that will decommission Vermont Yankee have virtually no formal accountability to the people and habitat that would be impacted by radioactive contamination in our air, soil, or water. They are accountable only to the degree they feel like it.  

    NorthStar LLC and Entergy will argue that transparency will be met through the Public Service Board (PSB) permitting process. As a quasi-judicial board, the PSB process is legalistic; the documents and testimony are not easily understood by most citizens. On the other hand, the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel (NDCAP)’s by-laws say it was created “To serve as a conduit for public information and education on and to encourage community involvement in matters related to the decommissioning…” NDCAP includes citizens, meets at a time that working people can participate, and has opportunities for panelists and the public to ask questions. Thus far, NDCAP has only heard from the State, NorthStar LLC, and Entergy. Experts who are not answerable to the State or the corporations should appear before NDCAP to educate the public  on the deal and give unbiased assessments of the sale, NorthStar new model for decommissioning reactors, and the management of the highly radioactive waste.  

    Safe and Green recognizes that there is no good solution to the problem of radioactive waste, which is one reason we have so doggedly opposed anything that creates more of it. But here we are, reluctant stewards of some of the most toxic materials imaginable. We need to protect ourselves from the owners of the VY site’s seeking a lesser standard of cleanup to stay within budget, or going over budget and somehow forcing Vermont taxpayers to cover the overruns. We need to protect ourselves and our environment from radiation, period. For this reason, we now add a 6th principle: Assurance that Vermont Yankee will be decommissioned by a company or companies that will do it safely and completely, to the highest standards, without burdening Vermont taxpayers. .  

    Considering the details of Principles 1-6 in light of the proposed sale to NorthStar: 

    1. The safe and prompt decontamination and restoration of the site for productive use.
    • NorthStar says it will clean the soil to a standard of 15 millirem (MREM) of radiation. This is the current Vermont standard. However, the Rowe and Maine Yankee nuclear power station sites were cleaned to 10 MREM. That should be our goal, or better. There is no level of radiation that is “safe.”
    • Will state agencies provide impartial oversight of the cleanup and decontamination of the site? How will oversight be financed? NRC oversight alone is not good enough.  
    • NorthStar is using an untested financial model for decommissioning. Will cost drive decisions that leave the site contaminated? 
    1. Moving all spent fuel from the pool to onsite dry cask storage as soon as is viable.
    • A condition of this sale is that the highly radioactive fuel be moved from the fuel pool into dry cask storage by 2020. So Entergy now says it can move the fuel into dry casks starting in April 2017, when it has been saying that it had to wait 5 years from closure, which was at the end of 2014, before they could start removing rods from the “spent” fuel pool. At NDCAP, we heard conflicting information from Entergy. They spoke about using a new technology (which is awaiting approval by the NRC) that can handle “hotter” fuel. We also heard them say they had ordered all the needed casks and would not change the types of casks used on this site. 
    • We want the waste to be in higher quality, thicker casks than either of the casks Entergy has mentioned. The casks should allow for ongoing, remote, long-term monitoring of radiation levels, like the ones used in Europe and Japan that withstood the earthquake and tsunami there. In addition, we want to see some hardening of the site (e. casks contained in a building or bermed with soil) and tight security to protect against attack. We want the U.S. to follow the highest possible standard for safety, not a compromised standard to cut costs in the short-term, while creating greater risks of negative environmental impact in the long-term.
    1. The long-term containment and safeguarding of all radioactive fuel rods removed from the reactor.
    • Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is part of the proposed NorthStar decommissioning “team” for Vermont Yankee. The WCS site where Vermont Yankee’s “low-level” radioactive waste now goes is under consideration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as “consolidated interim storage” for high-level waste, the highly radioactive fuel from other nuclear reactors now in dry casks. This open air dump at the Texas-New Mexico border is above the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a water source for eight states. The radiation of the fuel rods in the dry casks is intense enough to break down the casks that are used in this country in a relatively short time. Radioactive materials should not be sitting above this aquifer, in dry casks or otherwise.
    • Until the United States has a safe, final depository for all the waste, we think it should stay at the reactors where it was generated, in the highest quality containment currently available. While we recognize that ongoing storage of this waste on the banks of the Connecticut River represents a risk to the entire tri-state region, this is offset by the even greater risk of transporting it. The thought of 900 tons of highly radioactive waste travelling by rail or truck on America’s shoddy infrastructure, through densely populated regions summons images of horrific accidents. We would simply be creating “mobile Chernobyls.” Safe and Green does not want to see the waste from “our” nuclear power station creating an environmental threat in other parts of our country. 
    • The WCS site is in a community that is rural and majority Latino. The politicians in the area have close ties to the owners of the company, support WCS’s application for storing more highly radioactive waste, and claim that local residents want it there. We are in touch with Texans and New Mexicans who say this is not the From Safe and Green’s perspective, this is a clear example of an increasingly common pattern in which the extraction and energy production industries create sacrifice zones in areas where inhabitants are already marginalized and disempowered. This pattern is often termed environmental racism or environmental classism. 
    1. An independent environmental assessment of contamination at the site.
    • We again call for an independent environmental assessment of the Vermont Yankee site. We do not know what has been leaching into the soil and water over four decades. We do not know what was left under the ground during construction, which took place before there was an Environmental Protection Agency or regulations on toxic and hazardous materials. We don’t want surprises that would give the new owners a justification for walking away, leaving Vermont holding the bag and shouldering massive legal costs to fight the company. 
    1. Fulfillment of Entergy’s pledge to fully fund the costs of the cleanup and restoration of the Vermont Yankee site. 
    • Vermonters should not be liable for this expense now or in the future. Entergy, or any company that owns the VY site, is a for-profit corporation that is entitled to any profits it can make from its activities – and is also liable for the costs of any risks it incurs. There is no just place for an equation in which private gain/profit is allowed while risk and loss are made the responsibility of taxpayers. Entergy – and now NorthStar – wanted to buy into Vermont Yankee. The citizens of Vermont need to be shielded from the costs of any poor decisions they may make, and the owner should be monitored and held accountable.  
    1. Assurance that Vermont Yankee will be decommissioned by a company or companies that will do it safely and completely, to the highest standards, without burdening Vermont taxpayers. 
    • We want the Vermont Public Service Board to fulfill its responsibilities to the citizens of Vermont by conducting ”extreme vetting” of NorthStar’s finances and the nature of its relationship with AREVA, Waste Control Specialists, and Burns & McDonnell. NorthStar has never decommissioned a full-sized nuclear reactor, only three small university reactors. What exactly will be NorthStar’s relationship with Burns and McDonnell; Waste Control Specialists (WCS), a company with a murky past that owns the “low-level” nuclear waste site in Texas that it now wants to expand to accept high level radioactive waste, and so stands to make a hefty profit from this deal; and AREVA (which France just bailed out after many years of financial woes and which was responsible for what the Wall Street Journal recently called “a decades long cover-up of manufacturing problems” in steel components of nuclear reactors throughout Europe). The legal relationship among these entities, and the legalities of who is liable for what in what timeframes needs to be explicit, in writing, and enforceable in a court of law. 

    Whether we fought Vermont Yankee or supported it, we are the generation that is responsible. Prompt decommissioning gives us the opportunity to act as its stewards, rather than passing the financial, environmental, and public health burdens on to our children and grandchildren. Ethically, this is the right time. Now, we need to ensure we hire the right people to do the job. 

    2014-16 PRE-SALE PROPOSAL Key Issues

    • The NRC  regulatory process for decommissioning does not work. The NRC does not have a separate set of regulations for reactors that are shut down and are decommissioning.  3.23.15 Fairewinds-Energy-Education VY Decomm and VT to NRC 03.06.15_VT Comments speak to this issue in depth.
    • In addition, the NRC process is based on an old model of ownership — when all reactors were run by utility companies, and costs fell to electricity customers (ratepayers). Now, many nukes — including Yankee — are “merchant” plants which are owned by a corporation with shareholders and no ratepayers, with power sold to the market or in contracts. Profit is the only motive.
    • Before merchant plants came along, the process to take down and decontaminate closed reactors began as soon as it was safe for the workers to do so (five years or less). The process for one the size of Yankee took 10-12 years.
    • Entergy will put Yankee in storage (“Safstor”) until 2054 — 40 years! — before beginning to decontaminate the site.

    • We are the hosts: we deserve a voice. There is no role for states or local communities hosting reactors in decommissioning. An Advisory Opinion – DRAFT Engaging Host Communities – Submitted 10.15.15 was adopted by NDCAP. US Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Ed Markey (MA) have proposed fixes, but it is doubtful that Congress will ever act on their bills.
    • EMERGENCY PLANNING & EPZ: Click here for updated info.
    • PSB approval for new dry cask storage. Entergy needs a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board. PSB Schedule for Docket 8300 is here.   Here’s an overview of the process.
    • New storage pad will be too close to the reactor building Advisory Opinion -DRAFT ISFSI-CPG – Submitted 10.15.15(1) when the time comes take the reactor down.
    • Getting the best dry casks available for the long term for the 910 tons of waste in the fuel pool and reactor core. Two others nukes are also looking at dry cask storage, San Onofre in California, and Pilgrim in Mass. They determined that a superior system is used in Germany, France, and Japan.
    • Entergy will hold off beginning actual decommissioning until funds are  determined to be “adequate” by the NRC. Instead, Yankee will be in “SafStor” until 2054.
    • In other words, NRC does NOT make Entergy put up corporate money to take down the nuclear reactor and environs, then repay themselves from the decomm fund once it’s “adequate.” (Decomm. VY & Its Waste – Report to Legislature by Fairewinds 01.2011)

      • An article by Susan Smallheer of the Rutland Herald 03.21.15 explains the decomm trust fund and site restoration fund fairly clearly.
      • Entergy is taking a line of credit of $143 million to buy new casks, build a pad, and move the fuel from the fuel pool into the casks. It anticipates repayment of most of the loan will be met from the DOE.  Entergy is determined to use decommissioning funds for spent fuel management, and the State argues that decommissioning funds are not to be used for that purpose.
      • According to NRC rules, the DTF is intended to be used for removal of all nuclear contamination from the site. Entergy wants to use the Fund for buying dry casks, building a new pad to put the casks on, managing the waste, and security for it. The NRC rules say this is not allowed. But in June the NRC waved its magic wand of exemption and is letting Entergy use 1/3 of the DTF for these radioactive fuel expenses. The State of VT is furious and are working with other states to fight the NRC’s waiving of its own rules.
      • Entergy also wants to use the DTF to pay its property taxes to the Town of Vernon. How is that “decommissioning”? The State protests. Now Green Mtn. Power has joined the fight.
      • As of January 2016, Entergy has already used 10 % of the DTF.
      • The State of Vermont is pissed, and we are too. Every time Entergy takes money out of the DTF, the fund grows more slowly which means the clean up is delayed and delayed.
      • HISTORY of the DTF: When the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor was started, it was owned by a consortium of VT and New England utilities, including Central VT Public Service Co. When consumers paid their electric bills, a small fee was added to invest in the Decommissioning Trust Fund (DTF). The fund is invested in the stock market and has had good years and bad.In 2002, Yankee was bought by Entergy Corp. Part of the sale was that ownership of the Trust Fund went to Entergy. Fees were no longer added to ratepayers bills and Entergy has not invested any new money into the DTF. It continues to be invested in the stock market. When Yankee shut down, it had about $650 million in it. Entergy estimates $1.24 BILLION will be necessary for decommissioning.
    • FINANCIAL STABILITY & LLCs. We are concerned that there will not be enough money in the fund to cover decommissioning. We are concerned that Entergy, which is on shaky ground financially, could go bankrupt and leave Vermonters to shoulder the burden of clean up.
      • VT has joined MA and NH in filing a petition to the NRC to investigate Entergy’s finances. (VtDigger 03.01.15)
      • Entergy needs to be watched closed so that it does not use of decommissioning funds for property taxes, lawyers, pension plans and the like.
    • Texas/VT Compact: Vermont & Texas agreed on a site in Texas to store low level radioactive waste from our two states.  The Compact has since changed, agreeing to accept waste from other states and enlarged the waste dump beyond its original scope, nullifying Vermont’s original careful advocacy for environmental justice and ecological safety. It is now closer to aquifers, there is water in monitoring wells, and 3 employees have quit over safety concerns.
      •   Learn more here from the citizens in the host county working on this issue.
      • Transportation of ‘low level’ waste to Texas during decommissioning. For security purposes where & when trucks & trains travel is not public. How safe will our neighborhoods be, especially in the small roads in Vernon, Northfield, and Brattleboro, and on railroads that are stressed by the increase of trains carrying natural gas and oil from Canada?
    • Worker health and safety Nuclear facilities host multiple toxic and hazardous materials in addition to irradiated materials. Worker health has been lax at decommissioning sites in the past. The IAEA held an international workshop on worker safety radiation protection during decommissioning; only 1 US firm participated. (RSCS 06.2014)
    • Transparency. Be vigilant in watching Entergy. It has a history of hiding mishaps at the reactor and financial information is hidden behind layers of LLCs.
    • Deferring maintenance to cut costs (along with corporate spin when things go awry)
    • Lawyering-up to avoid pesky regulations and prior agreements.Industry “boasts” that no dry casks were damaged by the earthquake or tsunami at Fukushima Dai’ichi in 2011 as evidence that dry casks are safe. However, the casks are a very different model from those used in the US, and were in a structure at Fukushima, not out in the open on a concrete pad. Yankee’s plan is for different types of casks stored in the open in pads. Fukushima Dry Cask 2010_powerpoint

    Past Issues:

    • Water temperature: see the Yankee page on Connecticut River Watershed Council, which was concerned about impact of thermal pollution on fish and other aquatic biota. Since Yankee stopping using millions of gallons of water from the Connecticut River for cooling the reactor, the shad have returned and so has the ice.
    • What’s the rush? A PSDAR (basiscally the owners plans for decommissioning) is required by the NRC within 2 years after shut down. Entergy submitted the PSDAR to the NRC before the reactor shut down and did not incorporate any of the state or public’s comments. See our post Putting the Brakes on Entergy 03.12.15 for details on the process.
    • PSDAR was rubber stamped by the NRC in February 2016. VtDigger story is here.
    • PSDAR: Post-Shut Down Decommissioning Activities Report, by Entergy VT Yankee. Download PDF: BVY-14-078-PSDAR-and-Decommissioning-Cost-Estimate1. Some Public Comments on Entergy’s decommissioning plan are here. The State of Vermont submitted thorough, detailed comments which are well worth reading to for good picture of the issues. You can download the PDF here: VT to NRC 03.06.15_VT Comments
    • Site Assessment Study – Entergy released the site assessment 10.17.14. Available as a download PDF here: http://vydecommissioning.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Final-VY-SAS.pdf 
    • The SAS is not required by federal law; the study was the result of negotiations with the state that resulted in the Settlement Agreement (12.23.13). The result is a document without much use. No actual samples were taken from the ground, air or water; Entergy used only past reports and interviews with current and former workers. The environmental impact statement, for example, is based on a 2007 report.

    What Safe & Green Campaign is not following: the Entergy economic development money. While we have individual members following this topic, we are not keeping track of it as a group. The money is a hot topic locally but distract the public from the issues, many of which will affect us, our land, our river and our children for generations. If you are interested, go here: Windham County  Economic Development Program.

    High Level Radioactive Waste
    We recommend using the term “high level radioactive waste” rather than the industry’s term “spent fuel” or “spent nuclear fuel” (SNF).  People use the word “spent” when they feel that they have no energy left and are exhausted. But this is still highly radioactive material and it can still do a lot of damage. Otherwise, why does the NRC require us to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to store the stuff? Plus, there is a lot of it at VT Yankee: 2,996 fuel rods — over 900 tons. Most of it currently sits in a waste fuel pool 7 stories above the reactor.

    Entergy is ‘committed’ to move all high level radioactive waste from the fuel pool above the reactor into dry casks by 2020.  The casks will sit on the first and second ISFSI (independent spent fuel storage installation) — aka concrete pads — until the industry or the federal government come up with a solution as to what to do with the radioactive waste currently sitting on the same land as the 104 nuclear reactors in host towns across the country. This plan must be approved by VT’s Public Service Board (Docket 8300). The schedule for Docket 8300 is here:  PSB Pad schedule.

    There is already one storage pad on the Vermont Yankee site, which was approved with conditions by the PSB in 2008. There are 8 casks currently on that pa

    1. Docket 8300 is an application to build a second pad. The technical term for a pad is ISFSI (Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation). The PSB does not have a say over what kind of casks will hold the high level radioactive waste and sit on the pad.

    Entergy proposes to build the second pad next to the existing pad. Both are within the “protected area” near the reactor building.  Entergy’s plans are based on the false hope that the Dept of Energy will take the radioactive waste away by 2052, before it starts taking down the reactor building. Looking at the long history of Yucca Mtn. and other proposals for long term storage, there is no reason to believe Congress, the NRC, DOE and all the other players will find a site or sites, pass a law, enable regulations, build the facility, and license it —  by 2052.

    We support the position of the Windham Regional Commission (WRC), which wants the PSB to make Entergy build the new pad further away from the reactor, in case the waste still there when the time comes for decommissioning the reactor. Advisory Opinion -DRAFT ISFSI-CPG – Submitted 10.15.15(1)

    Here are a few problems the PSB should consider. (1) Flooding: Entergy says the ISFSI is in a 1,000 year flood plain. They do not mention that the NRC itself  reports that VT Yankee is at risk from flooding due to upstream dam failure (Read more here). (2) There is no berm proposed to protect the new ISFSI and waste from flooding or hostile action. (3) The new ISFSI pad will be built close to the reactor building. This will be a tight squeeze for deconstruction and decontamination of the reactor building, which will be taken down after the fuel is moved. (4) Currently, there is a warehouse on the site of the new ISFSI, which will be demolished. It contains nasty nuclear and other toxins. Will Entergy clean it ALL up — or will it hide what is below ground when it builds the new pad?

    Waste background:

    In the 70 year history of nuclear power, no solution has been found for the storage of this waste. The NRC, in its 2014 “Waste Confidence decision,” said  high level radioactive waste is “safe” for 100 years, in pools and casks in our host communities. Here is the NRC’s latest Fact Sheet on Spent Fuel Storage: Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board snfdrystorage 

    Donna Gilmore (San Onofre, CA) has done a lot of research on dry cask storage of high level radioactive waste. Her research is posted on her webpage SanOnofreSafety.org You can listen to a podcast of an interview with Donna on Vermont Yankee, released July 1, 2014 on Nuclear Hotseat podcast Donna’s interview begins almost half-way through. Host Libbe Libbe HaLevy runs through this week’s nuclear news first. If you are short on time, scroll ahead to under the S in the red LISTEN above it.

    Here is a powerpoint from a presentation on dry casks, by the CEO of Holtec International to NDCAP. HI-STORM-MPC-Storage-System-for-Vermont-Yankee-R4