Over the next weeks, this decision will be the subject of much legal commentary. From two articles, one in Vermont Digger and one by Reuters, I understand that the judge ruled "the decision to refuel is either not harmful if Entergy prevails on the merits, or it is not a cognizable injury if Vermont’s statutes are upheld. This may present a [business decision-type] dilemma [for Entergy], but it does not constitute irreparable harm that can be resolved by a preliminary injunction.” Judge Murtha also set the opening date for the full hearing for September 12.
William Sorrell, the Vermont Attorney General, was quoted as saying that, with the early September trial date, there will be a ruling on the merits of the case before March. So, from his point of view, everything is great.
March Isn't the Issue
By March, there will indeed be one ruling, by Judge Murtha. Since both sides plan to appeal, and Murtha will rule for one side or another, the chances are good that the court case will continue past March. The March ruling will be the first of many.
The issue is not about March. The issue is whether or not Vermont Yankee will order fuel for an October outage, or shut the plant down in October. That decision has to be made by the end of this week, according to Entergy. March isn't the issue. July is the issue about ordering fuel. October is the issue about possibly shutting down the plant.
The usual description of Entergy's options are the following:
- Spend $100 million on an outage in October, an expense that is usually amortized over 18 months of operation. Face the possibility of running the plant for only six months past the outage, and de facto losing about $60 million dollars in expense that cannot be recaptured by sales.
- Don't spend $100 million on the outage and shut the plant down in October, leading to great rejoicing in Montpelier, no matter how the lawsuit eventually comes out. In this case, Entergy doesn't lose as much money, but it loses something even more valuable. It loses many of the plant staff. (I assume that Entergy would put the plant in some type of lay-up where it could be restarted later. I have no particular reason to make that assumption.)
- Don't spend $100 million on the outage, and shut the plant down permanently in October. (This is the more general assumption being made.)
All of these are lousy options.
I think I have a better idea. (Not that Entergy asked me!)
My goal: don't spend the money on the refueling, but keep the staff as long as possible.
My idea: Cut back power from the plant immediately to perhaps 25% power. Keep running at this level as long as it is possible and legal, well past October. Perhaps go for a second injunction as March approaches and the appeal process takes over. Or, if Entergy wins the case at this level, refuel at that point and let the State go for an injunction on any appeal.
What are the downsides of my idea?
- Entergy will be employing people but making less revenue.
- The grid will suffer in the summer. The big nuke plants never refuel during the summer season.
However, Entergy cares about its workers, so the first part isn't too bad. The second part---what can I say? It will be amusing to watch the utilities scrambling hard for power, facing the possibility of rolling brownouts in hot weather, and asking the PSB for emergency rate increases.
At least, it will amuse some of us.
Update: You can download Judge Murtha's ruling here, and Shay Totten of 7 days has a very thoughtful analysis. Did Vermont really win?
Thank you to Rod Adams today for the link to this post in his blog, and the thoughtful words about it.
The Safe and Green Campaign, the same group that led the protest on the street in front of the Court House in June, is sponsoring a discussion tomorrow in Brattleboro about pre-emption. Besides VLS faculty (Kreis and Parenthau), New England Coalition and Citizens Action Network will be presenting. 7 to 8:30. With such a long list of presenters, it doesn't sound like much audience participation will be available. In other words, don't expect to ask any questions: this isn't an NRC meeting, it's a VLS meeting. However, Kreis is usually worth listening to, so it might be worthwhile to attend. Update and Correction: I listed this meeting as being at Vermont Law School in an earlier version of this blog. It is in Brattleboro.
Nuclear fuel rods being inspected (Unfortunately, the illustration shows PWR rods, not BWR rods, but I use the graphics I can find.)