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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