Friday, March 23, 2012

Dry Casks, the PSB, the Judge and My Useless Soundbite

The Public Service Board Is Confused

The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) may need to issue a Certificate of Public Good in order for Vermont Yankee to continue to operate. Meanwhile, in a January 19 ruling about Vermont Yankee, Judge Murtha enjoined "the Legislature" from closing down Vermont Yankee by regulating dry cask storage of spent fuel. You can read the entire ruling here: the last few pages contain the relevant injunction against shutting down the plant by regulating dry cask storage.

The Judge showed that "the Legislature" was attempting to regulate nuclear safety issues. These are regulated solely by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On March 9, Howard and I attended a PSB hearing. The Public Service Board couldn't figure out how it was going to control dry cask storage if the legislature didn't give it authority to do so. Apparently, the PSB looked at the Judge's ruling and said "Who, me? Surely the Judge didn't mean that we can't regulate dry casks. He's talking about the Legislature, not us."

What Part of No Don't You Understand?

At that point, Entergy asked the Judge for a ruling that would clarify the situation. On Monday, the judge ruled, and you can link to it here. As Judge Murtha wrote:

a denial of authorization to store fuel, on the basis of statutory provisions that this Court has held were enacted with a preempted purpose, would force Vermont Yankee to shut down, .....Therefore, Defendants are enjoined, pending the appeal of the Court’s final judgment and Merits Decision to the Second Circuit, from addressing the storage of spent fuel ... from bringing an enforcement action, or taking other action... to compel Vermont Yankee to shut down because the “cumulative total amount of spent fuel stored at Vermont Yankee” exceeds “the amount derived from the operation of the facility up to, but not beyond, March 21, 2012.” (emphasis added by me)

My translation: legislating spent fuel storage is a "pre-empted purpose" and you can't shut the plant down on that basis.

In other words: PSB, what part of "no" didn't you understand?

My Soundbite and How It Fell Flat

I'm a kind of geeky person and I tend to give long-winded explanations. But when I was in the hearing room on March 9, I thought of a soundbite. I even told it to a couple of reporters. They didn't quote it but still, I liked it. The hearing was Friday the 9th and the ruling was Monday the 19th, so my soundbite predicted what the ruling would be.

I said:

"Whatever they think about it, PSB has no authority to regulate dry casks. No judge will let them regulate it. Radiological safety issues are pre-empted to the federal level. A spent fuel cask is just a concrete cylinder with some ceramic pellets inside. Without radiological concerns, there is nothing to regulate."

Okay, okay, it was long for a soundbite, and it didn't deserve to be quoted. Still, I kind of liked it, and I tried to get it out there in the press.

A dry cask is a concrete cylinder with some ceramic pellets inside. One gets tired of the "tons of waste on the banks of the Connecticut" descriptions. In my opinion, my own description is just as close to the truth. Maybe closer.
Further reading includes
State Can't Shut Vermont Yankee Over Waste Issue. Dave Gram, Burlington Free Press.

Update: Not sure how I missed this, but the PSB also realized that it couldn't rule on spent fuel, but only because the Judge said so. A rather complex statement from the PSB (deliberate obfuscation or just fuzzy thinking?) is near the bottom of this excellent Vermont Digger article by Randolph Holhut of The Commons and Alan Panebaker of Vermont Digger. Murtha Gives Entergy Okay to continue operating Vermont Yankee. Well, my soundbite on those casks was still first and earliest....

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