Monday, January 30, 2012

PV Solar and Vermont: Not a Good FIt. Guest Post by Charles Kelly

PV Solar Energy and the State of Vermont: Not a Good Fit

It is interesting to witness all the hype about PV solar energy fields in Vermont, and how these fields will be a panacea for our future energy needs. Even if we put aside the vast land area that solar requires, there is real concern that our energy planners are over-selling Solar Photovoltaic. Excessive investment in solar will cause taxpayers to pay substantially more for their electricity to the detriment of their personal savings.

Over-reliance on solar is an ill-conceived strategy. Our state energy planners seem more concern with hitting the perceived hot buttons of green energy and the subsidies that come with it, than conducting a pragmatic and thorough study of how well PV solar energy fits in our state.

Cost and Efficiency

Here are a few facts about solar, backed up by creditable data:
  • Solar panels are not remotely competitive with Coal, Gas, or Nuclear with regards to efficiency, cost, and materials.
  • Because of cloud cover; solar radiation reaching Vermont is 40% less per year (8 MJ/m2) than that reaching Montana, at the same latitude, and 59% less than New Mexico. In other words, we pay the same for solar panels, but unlike other states we get less production per panel.

Solar Technologies and Critical Materials

There are two basic solar panel technologies: crystalline silicon and thin film.

Silicon panels are more efficient, but costs more. Silicon semiconductor manufacturing, particularly the cutting of silicon ingots, is an energy-intensive, CO2-producing process. Taking this into account, the total net energy generated during the life (~ 25 years ) of the panels is reduced by as much as 10%. In addition panel output degrades about 0.5% per year due to aging, a significant reduction over 25 years.

Thin film panels use exotic rare earth metals, such as cadmium telluride, gallium arsenide, and indium. Only two nations, China and Mexico, have significant deposits of these materials. So much for being energy independent with PV Solar. Even with these sources, there are not enough of these materials on the planet to satisfy world need. There are no proven substitutes. The 2011 U.S. Department of Energy report Critical Materials Strategy outlines the severity of material limitations not only for PV solar, but wind power as well.

Efficiency, Cost, and Materials: The Three Warning Signs

Efficiency, cost, and materials are three warning signs that should not be ignored by state energy planners,. Planning decisions made now will affect rate payers and taxpayers alike for the next quarter century and beyond. Why jump into a technology that is not suitable for the New England area? In time, household and business electric bills will be much higher due to rolling the expensive solar energy into rate schedules. At that point, it will become abundantly clear to the average Vermonter that we have been misled, whereas the top 1% of households that are part of tax-shelter LLCs will have enjoyed a lucrative 20-year joyride courtesy of Vermont's SPEED program.

About Charles Kelly:

Charles Kelly, BME and MME Villanova University, P.E. Pennsylvania and Vermont, Consulting Engineer to Lithium Battery Industry. Granted two U.S. patents for battery and composite material design. Senior Principal Design Engineer (Ret.) Enersys Advanced Systems. Project Engineer (Ret.) Raytheon Engineers & Constructors for PSC of NH Seabrook Nuclear Station. Supervising Test Engineer (Ret.) for power industry components, Schutte & Koerting Co. Philadelphia, PA.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nostalgia Time: Shumlin in Favor of Vermont Yankee in 1998

Shumlin and Vermont Yankee: The Old Days

In 1998, Peter Shumlin was President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and Vermont Yankee was owned by a consortium of utilities. In 1998, Shumlin sent a letter in support of Vermont Yankee to Mike Empey, a Vermont Yankee supporter. Mike Empey just sent the letter to me and gave me permission to post it. Shumlin writes that he fought an effort to prematurely close Vermont Yankee, "I can assure you that as long as I am one of the people in charge of the leadership of the Vermont Senate, no such provision will become law under our watch. Vermont Yankee contributes tremendously to the economy in Windham County, not to mention our power needs." Yes. Shumlin wrote this and signed it.

Mr. Empey works at Vermont Yankee, but he is not any type of official spokesperson. This posting of a 14-year old letter is not an official Entergy statement. Seems to me that official Entergy statements are never this amusing....

You can double-click to enlarge the image.

89th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers up at Idaho Samizdat

The 89th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at Idaho Samizdat. Dan Yurman has put together a great Carnival. Some features include:
  • Make Your Smartphone into a Radiation Detector from Nuclear Diner
  • Myths and truths of nuclear liability insurance from Atomic Insights
  • Reports on the Blue Ribbon Commission Final Report from NEI Nuclear Notes
This Carnival also includes two new blogs (new to the Carnival, at least):
This is a great Carnival! There's more, of course: new reactor types, Russian nuclear icebreakers, cultural bias and nuclear energy. Come to the Carnival! Enjoy your Sunday evening with the best reading in the nuclear world!

In local news, not the Carnival, I recommend an op-ed by Howard Shaffer. The Vermont Energy plan is supposedly about moving to renewables. Actually, the plan is about burning more natural gas and coal. Shaffer: Energy plan relies too much on fossil fuels.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Careers in Nuclear with an AA Degree and Art In Nuclear. Nuclear Science Week Special.

This is National Nuclear Science Week, and with everything else going on, it almost escaped me. Here's a taste of it: Careers and Art.

Careers: John Wheeler and the Value of A Nuclear Education

When Howard and I visited a charter high school in Massachusetts, many of the students had questions about jobs in the nuclear industry:
  • What kinds of jobs are available in nuclear energy?
  • What are the requirements to obtain these jobs?
John Wheeler posted about nuclear energy careers this week. I wish we had John Wheeler's blog post available when we went to the Massachusetts high school. However, Wheeler hadn't yet written his post at that time!

In Explore a Great Career In Nuclear Energy, Wheeler gives an overview of nuclear careers, especially careers that start with the new curriculum for an Associates (AA) degree in Nuclear Energy. This uniform nuclear program is available at 40 community colleges around the country. The degree is recognized at all nuclear plants in the U.S. After graduation with this degree, jobs at power plants start at around $45,000 a year. Actually, these are careers, not just jobs, with a clear path to more responsibility, education, and money.

Since two years at a community college usually costs no more than $6,000, a nuclear AA degree is probably the most cost-effective career program available. Also, these nuclear jobs cannot be outsourced to any other country, because the plants are right here.

And some nuclear plants aren't right here. There's a huge number of new builds abroad, and some of those countries are already recruiting experienced American workers. A young person with a spirit of adventure can choose a wonderful international career.

Art: Knowledge Through Art

Jobs are important, and so is art. Suzanne Hobbs Baker is founder of PopAtomic Studios, a not-for-profit enterprise whose motto is Energy--Knowledge Through Art. (I am on the Board of Directors of PopAtomic.) We carried several PopAtomic Posters at our rallies in support of Vermont Yankee.

Baker was recently chosen to give a TEDx talk, and I embed it below. Also, a hat tip to Atomic Insights and Nuclear Street. Both blogs embedded this talk before I got around to it.

For More Fun with Nuclear Science Week

I encourage you to visit:
  • Nuclear Science Week website for overviews and activities
  • Nuclear Clean Air Energy site for links to presentations about nuclear science and by nuclear engineers, including what it is like to be a young woman working in nuclear energy
  • ANS Nuclear Cafe, with a series of posts and picture galleries of some of the Nuclear Science Week activities
  • Atomic Power Review, with a Nuclear Science Week post every day this week, including a beautifully illustrated post on Russian nuclear icebreaker ships.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The State and the Control-H Defense: A Guest Post by Cavan Stone

I am no lawyer but after reading the ruling it looks like a pretty cut and dry case of federal preemption.

Of course the legislature did not help their case by leaving so much evidence in the legislative record that they were regulating Radiological Safety. It's clear that the legislature was trying to conceal its motivations. They bungled so much that The Daily Show would have a field day with it. It's comical that they would think the judge would not catch on to their widespread use of the replace button (Ctrl-H) in Microsoft Word when they blurt out right in the public record, "Okay, let’s find another word for safety."

Luckily, if we look at the past cases referenced, judges (including Judge Murtha) are well aware of States legislatures' use of the replace button to “nullify nearly all unwanted federal legislation by simply publishing a legislative committee report articulating some state interest or policy – other than frustration of the federal objective – that would be tangentially furthered by the proposed state law."

While this ruling is a major victory for nuclear, I don't think this case will be the last preemption case. Rather we could very well see an arms race between state legislatures improving their skill at concealing their motivations and the federal judges' ability to discern them. Thankfully, at the moment, the judges are more legally astute than the legislatures.

Yet, legislatures appear to be getting more clever as evidenced by what's happening in New York right now. This is why we cannot let up. As noted in the legislative transcript, what drove the legislature is that they keep seeing citizens with "concerns that you can’t address directly the way they want them to be addressed.”

We need to show our elected officials that a large majority does not support this action. Instead, we want legislation based upon the scientific findings from trusted, unbiased civil servants in places like the VT Department of Health and the NRC. Due to their results, we find Vermont Yankee to be a source of public good. Thus we enthusiastically support it.

About Cavan Stone

Cavan Stone is a physics graduate student who works with the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute. He has had other guest posts on this blog. for example: Where Does Our Energy Come From? This Control-H post first appeared on the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook Page. If you are on Facebook, stop by the page and Like it! You can see posts by Stone, Shaffer and others on the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook Page.

Hostess Twinkies from Wikipedia, in honor of the Twinkie Defense. That is Meredith's comment, not Cavan's.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Decision and the Next Decisions plus Some Relevant Links

The Next Decision Is the State's Decision

Judge Murtha ruled on the Entergy case last week, and the ruling came down completely for Entergy. That's my opinion, at least. The question is: will the State appeal? There was certainly a lot of talk in the early days about the "losing party is certain to appeal" and "fighting it all the way up to the Supreme Court."

Talk is cheap. Lawyers are expensive. Judge Murtha ruled on three points. In my opinion, some of the points are not easily subject to appeal. Will the State actually appeal? That's the next decision.

According to WAMC radio and WCAX TV, Governor Shumlin is discussing a possible appeal with Attorney General Sorrell. Shumlin will not announce a decision until midweek. In other words, he may announce his decision tomorrow.

Or Maybe It is Entergy's Decision. Will Entergy Sue the State For Expenses?

I think my local paper, the Valley News, has the best scoop on the possible appeal in its front-page article by John Gregg today. In the article, I learned that any appeal must be filed within 30 days. The State might appeal some parts of the ruling and not other parts. (What would that do to the full decision? I am SO not-a-lawyer!) The State of Vermont might be liable for some of Entergy's legal fees, specifically for the arguments about the commerce clause. It's worth reading this article. Too many of the articles in the local papers are just moaning and complaining about the ruling. This one has some good information.

If the State Appeals

I think the state has very little ground to appeal Murtha's ruling. The Judge's ruling stands on three sturdy legs. The first leg of the ruling is the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The second leg is contract law. The third leg is state pre-emption of NRC prerogatives. Let's look at these issues separately in terms of a possible appeal.
  • A state can't insist a business in the state give good prices in-state and higher prices out-of-state. That violates the Commerce Clause of the Consitution, and even AG Sorrell thinks Entergy could collect legal fees from the state on this subject.
  • Nobody can change a contract unilaterally. In this case, a state can't change a contract unilaterally. This is standard contract law AND a clause of the Constitution AND this issue was the basis for one of the first cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. The Georgia state legislature tried to break its own contracts by passing a new law. The Supreme Court did not allow Georgia to do so. As of 1810.
  • The NRC has the responsibility of regulating issues of radiological safety. State actions attempted to pre-empt this federal prerogative. Perhaps the State could attempt to gather evidence that it was not considering radiological safety in its Senate vote. However, with the other two legs of the ruling in good shape, weakening the radiological pre-emption leg would not lead to the verdict being overturned.

Some Useful Links On the Case:

John Gregg article on State Reviewing VY Appeal.
Guest post on Rule of Law Upheld, by George Angwin, on this blog
ANS Nuclear Cafe Post by Howard Shaffer Priorities for 2012 in Vermont Politics (about the Clean Energy Development Fund, Hurricane Irene and the ruling)
Three excellent posts by Steve Skutnik of Neutron Economy.

The first Skutnik post describes the State's case as similar in negotiating style to Darth Vader's methods: the contract is what I say it is!

Oh. I can't resist. I am embedding the video to which Skutnik links.

All About Me

I am back from the hospital and doing well. I'm not on heavy-duty painkillers anymore, but my life DOES seem like a round of naps and physical therapy (which tires me enough to want another nap). I'm not at full speed, so you can expect more guest blogs and so forth for at least another two weeks. Still, I am blogging. Friends don't let friend blog on opiates.

Thank you to everyone who wrote with concern. I am absurdly and insanely grateful to George Angwin and Howard Shaffer for their truly excellent posts on this blog!


Statue of Justice from the Czech Republic. She is holding a book of the law. I have always liked this image better than the traditional "scales" image. The scales don't visually acknowledge that the weighing is not a stand-alone activity, but is done in context of the law.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beyond the Federal District Court Decision. Guest post by Howard Shaffer

When it bought Vermont Yankee in 2002, Entergy agreed to apply for Certificates of Public Good from the Public Service Board. It applied for and received certificates for a power up-rate and for used fuel storage in dry casks. It also applied for a certificate for operation after March 21, 2012.

The Public Service Board held hearings on the certificate for continued operation, and these hearings were apparently completed. Thus, the Board is ready to either issue a certificate or refuse one. I expect the Board will not act until the Attorney General reviews the District Court decision and officially advises the Board what actions it may take. Then the Board would either issue a Certificate of Public Good, issue one with conditions, or refuse to issue one.

There are a number of factors the Board may consider while deliberating on whether to issue a certificate. Let us evaluate some of these.


One thing the Board cannot consider is safety!!

The environment

The plant has a forty-year record showing no negative effect on its environment, as is required by its license. No basis here for "not in the general good."

The water quality permit

The Public Service Board and plant opponents are suing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claiming that its extension of Vermont Yankee’s license was invalid because the application did not contain proof of compliance with the Clean Water Act. The plant currently operates under an extension of its water quality permit from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

To us non-lawyers, this is a murky business. If the plant’s current permit is not valid, why does the State let the plant operate? On the other hand, if the plant does have a valid permit, why sue the NRC? Moreover, if the claims in the suit are valid, how come there was no action on this during the five years the NRC was considering the license extension? In the end, it is difficult to see why this is the business of the Public Service Board rather than of the permit issuer, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

If the suit fails, there is no basis for a negative finding because the plant is still required to obey the terms of the permit without any Board intervention. If the suit succeeds, then the status of the water quality permit becomes irrelevant.


Vermont utilities will be buying no power directly from Vermont Yankee after March 21, so the price of its electric power is irrelevant. The price of electricity for Vermont rate payers will be based on the wholesale market rate determined by the grid operator. Part of this grid power will be from Vermont Yankee, and its wholesale price will be higher than the contract price paid before March 21. Vermont utilities have made no new contracts with Vermont Yankee, apparently expecting the plant to close down.

Vermont ratepayers may, however, benefit from the agreement made at the time Entergy purchased the plant. Vermont utilities will get half the profits realized at any wholesale price above 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Vermont Yankee has a large payroll and purchases many services in Vermont. In addition, the plant pays a large part of the cost of the Emergency Plan for the area around it. Brattleboro and neighboring towns are required to have a plan because of the railroad, among other things. It seems the Board could find that the economic impact of Vermont Yankee is positive.


The plant has been very reliable. Reliability affects the price the plant has to charge, and this affects profits. Lack of profits would mean that the revenue expected from the above 6.5 cents sales would not be received. It would seem that possible lack of expected, but not guaranteed, revenue is not a basis for a finding of “not in the general good.”


There have been no complaints of noise or other esthetic problems. The plant erected a fence to hide the Dry Casks from being seen from the river, the far shore, or the field north of the plant. It does not seem there is a basis for finding negative esthetic effects.


The history of actions and legal obstructions by plant opponents may cause the Board to require improved communication with the public as a condition of granting a Certificate of Public Good.

Examining the Court’s Decision

The news has carried stories since the District Court decision reporting that State agencies are researching ways to prevent plant operation. It remains to be seen what “rabbits will be pulled out of what hats.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

District Court Upholds the Rule of Law. Guest post by George Angwin

From her hospital bed, Meredith asked me to post a brief note about and link to Judge Murtha's ruling today on the Entergy challenge to the Vermont legislature. The ruling essentially enjoined the State of Vermont from enforcing attempts to close the plant or cripple its operations.

I have paraphrased below the key conclusions of the ruling. Its full text is at

Judge Murtha ordered:

1. The State shall not enforce Act 160 to compel Vermont Yankee to shut down after March 21, 2012, because it failed to get legislative approval for a Certificate of Public Good.

2. The State shall not enforce the provision of Act 74 that requires legislative approval to store spent nuclear fuel after March 21, 2012.

3. The State shall not condition the continued operation of Vermont Yankee on requiring that it sell power to Vermont utilities at rates below wholesale market rates.

My street-talk version of these injunctions is that Judge Murtha is telling the State of Vermont that:

1. You cannot unilaterally change the terms of the 2002 contract between the State and Vermont Yankee.

2. You cannot use the spent nuclear fuel to shakedown Vermont Yankee.

3. You cannot extort ruinously low wholesale rates for Vermont Yankee power.

This ruling re-affirms the rule of law, which is the basis of our prosperity and our freedom.

Personal: Meredith's operation went well, and I expect to bring her home tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Politics of Fear. Guest Post by Robert Hargraves

Fear sells. Fear for child safety lets Verizon Wireless sell tracking of kids’ cellphone locations, though child abductions have not increased. Fear of household invasion is raising sales of household alarms and security devices, though crime rates have fallen. Fear of disease sells unnecessary full body CT scans, discovering pseudo diseases that raise health care costs.

Frank Furedi, at the University of Kent, cites fear of genetically modified crops, mobile phones, global warming, and foot-and-mouth disease. He argues that perceptions of risk, ideas about safety, and controversies over health, the environment and technology have little to do with science or empirical evidence.

Politicians use fear. Bush used fear of Hussein’s atomic bomb development to rally support to invade Iraq. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued that the use of the term War on Terror was intended to deliberately generate a culture of fear, because it “obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” Furedi continues, “Politics has internalized the culture of fear. So political disagreements are often over which risk the public should worry about the most.”

Vermont politicians have used fear this way. Arousing fears of Vermont Yankee has enabled politicians to posture themselves as public saviors, focus on a single topic, and get elected. Yet this power plant is the safest, carbon-free, least expensive source of electricity Vermonters can have.

Yet fear causes flight — back to nature — back to the forest and the Tree of Souls in Pandora in Avatar. Producer David Cameron knew his audiences’ emotions when he designed this best selling film grossing over $2.7 billion.

Frightened people think of natural power — from windmills, waterfalls, sunlight, and wood-burning — will save us. The arousal of fear and the flight to renewable energy obscures the facts about their risks, costs, and environmental impacts. If we accept green, renewable, natural energy as the ultimate goal, then we also thoughtlessly accept the proffered stepping stone of natural gas, even if it does emit more CO2.

This is an emotional conflict — fear vs nature. Einstein said we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. So let’s try another level of consciousness — rationality. Listen to fear messages and consider their sources and content. Do they come from scientists, engineers, regulators, or radiation oncologists? Do they have numbers? What are the costs? What risks are acceptable? One in 77 people end their lives in traffic accidents, yet we accept this death rate as the price for driving. Can we be rational about the risks, costs, and environmental impacts of Vermont Yankee?


Dr. Robert Hargraves teaches Rethinking Nuclear Power at Dartmouth ILEAD. Hargraves and I co-taught Energy Safari at Ilead. Hargraves promotes the development of thorium reactors through his book, Aim High, and through videos.

In terms of this blog, he is perhaps most famous for his video Vermont Yankee Explained, and for his post, Vernon, New Hampshire. In that post, he suggests that the town of Vernon should secede from Vermont.

This op-ed has also been published by True North Reports.

The illustration is The Scream by Edvard Munch, from Wikipedia

Monday, January 16, 2012

There is No Jobs Bonus. Decommissioning Helps Long-Haul Truckers But It Destroys Local Communities.

Decommissioning Plans, Made by Nuclear Opponents

A recent post described the new taxes that Governor Shumlin's administration wants to place on Vermont Yankee. There are two taxes, actually: one on fuel rods, and one to increase the decommissioning fund. Meanwhile, at ANS Nuclear Cafe, Howard Shaffer wrote about opponent tactics. Opponents plan to form new "affinity groups" with the same people as members, but new names for the groups. Decommissioning is a major focus of these groups.

It's also a major way for the opponent groups to salve their conscience about throwing hundreds of people out of work. "Decommissioning will be a jobs bonus!"

No. It won't.

Will Decommissioning Funnel a Billion Dollars into the Vermont Economy?

In an early March press conference, Governor Peter Shumlin called decommissioning Vermont Yankee “a huge jobs issue for us.” He wanted immediate decommissioning of the plant because it would “fuel $1 billion” into the Windham County economy over the next ten years.

The jobs Shumlin is describing are not jobs held by the current workers. As reported in an article in True North Reports and updated in this blog, more than 80% of the plant employees would be laid off within two years of plant closure, whether or not the plant is put into SafStor. There are 650 employees at the plant now: in two years, less than 100 employees would remain.

Though plant people would be laid off, contract labor would be brought in for decommissioning. What kind of payroll would the contractors bring to the area, compared to the payroll of the plant when it is operating?

The Contractors Come to Town

People who have lived through a local plant decommissioning say that the effect of contractors is not noticeable in the town. Bob Blagden, a selectman in Wiscasset Maine while Maine Yankee was decommissioned, said the “contractors must have picked up some people, but it wasn’t noticeable.” A long-time resident of the town, who did not want his name used, said “They may have hired some people, but this was nothing in comparison with what we lost.”

Are these people correct? Or is Shumlin correct in thinking decommissioning is a jobs bonanza?

The residents of Wiscasset are correct. It took some research to figure this out, but a best estimate is that the total salaries for contractors in the area would be about $20 million a year, while the plant has a payroll of $65 million a year. Decommissioning is a job cliff, not a job bonanza.

What is a Billion Dollars?

Before reviewing the question “would decommissioning fuel a billion dollars?” for Windham County, we have to ask what “fueling a billion dollars” means. Is this money straight payroll, or does it count “multipliers”?

The “multiplier” effect is the well-known economic calculation of how many other jobs are based on a group of steady jobs. For example, two economic studies of Vermont Yankee started with the fact that there are 650 employees at Vermont Yankee, and a yearly payroll of around $65 million An IBEW study in 2008 calculated that Vermont Yankee provided 900 “multiplier effect” jobs in the state, while a separate report prepared for the Vermont legislature in 2010 claimed Vermont provided about 700 multiplier-effect jobs. Both estimated a multiplier effect of at least two times the plant payroll.

Being conservative, we could estimate that Vermont Yankee adds a total of $100 million a year to the local economy (less than a times-two multiplier effect). At that rate, VY “fuels” one billion dollars to the local economy in ten years, and in twenty years (till 2032) it would fuel two billion dollars.

In comparison, how much money would the contract labor of a decommissioning project add to the local economy?

Decommissioning the Yankee Plants

The total expenditure for decommissioning Yankee Rowe, Connecticut Yankee, and Maine Yankee was $750 million, $500 million, and $850 million, respectively. (Data from a paper on “Lessons Learned from Decommissioning” by Wayne Norton, president of Yankee Atomic.). The projects took varying amounts of time, from 7 to 15 years, but let us assume they all took ten years, in parallel with the Shumlin time estimate. At that rate, expenditure rates on decommissioning were between $50 and $85 million a year, numbers similar to that of the Vermont Yankee payroll.

However, comparing total costs of decommissioning to payroll costs of an operating plant is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Most significantly, decommissioning a nuclear plant includes major expenditures outside of the plant locality.

Decommissioning a nuclear plant requires millions of pounds of slightly radioactive waste to be hauled to low-level waste disposal sites in the West. Maine Yankee shipped 460 million pounds of waste, and Connecticut Yankee shipped 350 million pounds. Container manufacturers, long-haul truck drivers, and waste disposal sites are the recipients of waste-disposal money, not the people in the towns near the plant.

How much money stays in the towns near the plant and how much goes to hauling and waste disposal sites? We can start by looking at the probable payroll (not total cost) of decommissioning.

The Zion Explanation

I could not ascertain the local payroll versus haulage costs for the decommissioning the Yankee plants. These numbers are proprietary to the companies that did the work, and I hit a dead end trying to find out. However, there's a current decommissioning project in Illinois. The company doing that project, EnergySolutions, was very helpful to me.

EnergySolutions is beginning to decommission the Zion Nuclear plant in Illinois. EnergySolutions has a Zion website partially devoted to showing that Zion decommissioning will bring economic benefits to the region. The accompanying pie chart is on that website. The EnergySolutions public outreach officer for the Zion project, Larry Booth, was also kind enough to send me the economic report on which the chart is based "The Economic Impacts of Decommissioning the Zion Nuclear Power Station." (The report is not on the web.)

On the pie chart, we can see that the salaries for the ten-year decommissioning process at Zion add up to $215 million dollars.

In more detail, page 14 of the Zion economic report has a chart of personnel. That chart is at the top of this blog post. Double-click to enlarge.

At its height, in years 2 through 5, there will be around 300 people on-site decommissioning the Zion plant. That is about half the number of people working at Vermont Yankee currently. The six other years, the staffing is much lower, down to five people in year 10. Clearly, decommissioning is not a ten-year jobs bonus for the site.

Much of the Zion economic project report is devoted to explaining the multiplier effects of the project. This is called “output” on the pie chart. In the report’s careful reasoning, $200 million in on-site salaries generates $600 million in other economic outputs over ten years. However, using that multiplier, $1.3. billion in salaries at Vermont Yankee ($65 million per year for twenty years) would add $3.9. billion in other economic benefits, for a total economic impact of $5.3 billion dollars over the next twenty years of operation.

Apples to Apples Comparison

The solid facts are that Vermont Yankee has a payroll of $65 million per year, and decommissioning Zion will be a payroll of $20 million a year. Decommissioning the Yankee plants probably had a similar payroll, since the people in town saw little economic benefit from the presence of the contractors. As one well-connected man from Maine said: “I didn’t know anyone who got a job there.”

By careful assessment of multipliers, the total economic benefit of any project can look excellent. However, comparing apples to apples (on-site salaries to on-site salaries) decommissioning a nuclear plant is not a jobs bonanza compared to continued operation of the plant.

The Jobs Cliff

Closing Vermont Yankee will push the current plant workers off a jobs cliff, as described in a previous article. It will push the local economy off a cliff also, despite the presence of contract laborers. The contract labor force can be expected to have only about a third of the payroll of the operating plant.

Shumlin says that decommissioning is a “huge jobs issue.” It is, indeed, a huge issue. Decommissioning will be a huge job loss for southern Vermont. The one clear financial beneficiary from decommissioning Vermont Yankee will be low-level waste disposal sites in the West, and long-haul truck drivers. Decommissioning will be a financial loss for southern Vermont. It will destroy the local communities and the local job base.


A version of this blog post was published at True North Reports. I am grateful to Rob Roper for permission to republish it here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

87th Carnival of Nuclear Energy up at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Plus Some Other Announcements

The 87th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up a ANS Nuclear Cafe. Dan Yurman has once again put together a fascinating carnival.

There's a lot of information about mining and mineral extraction including: discussion of the decision not to mine uranium near the Grand Canyon (NEI Nuclear Notes), description of radiation releases from fracking (Nuke Power Talk), and description of China buying a uranium mine in Namibia (Next Big Future).

There's a review of The Conundrum, a book forecasting the end of energy availability. Atomic Insights wonders if the author has heard of uranium and thorium?

There's lessons from Fukushima: the Flex Strategy for nuclear safety (NEI Nuclear notes) and a new clean-up method for radioactive elements in soil (Next Big Future). There's new material development, too (Next Big Future).

New reactor deals are coming along (Idaho Samizdat) and there are new ideas of communicating about nuclear energy to women (ANS Nuclear Cafe). Meanwhile, here at Yes Vermont Yankee, there always seems to be a new lawsuit!

Other Announcements

Nuclear Science Education: National Nuclear Science Education Week starts on January 23, and I urge you to read about it at the Nuclear Science Week website. Also, a tip of the hat to Dan Yurman for his new bibliography of non-technical nuclear books. His list is a wonderful resource. I also recommend Will Davis post at Atomic Power Review on Nuclear Science Education Week, which includes links and information on getting speakers. Every day at Nuclear Science will will have a different topic, and Davis plans to cover these topics on a daily basis at Atomic Power Review. My own blog has a post about resources for high school students to learn about atomic energy.

Temporary Blog Changes: For personal reasons, I will be less available for about three weeks, starting Wednesday January 18th. There will be more guest bloggers than usual, though I will also be blogging. Also, comment moderation will be slower. Otherwise, things will be pretty much the same.

Every now and again I imagine reshaping this blog, with new formats, tabs to blog pages as well as posts, and so forth. Maybe, after three weeks of part-time blogging, I will be fired up enough to make changes! The daily grind does tend to grind down the idea of reformulating, rethinking, etc.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Taxing Fuel Rods: The Vermont Legislature Plans Another Law Which Will End Up in Court

The Vermont legislature is facing the fact that the Clean Energy Development Fund will cease to be funded when Vermont Yankee stops paying into it in March. This fund has paid part of the costs of many a solar panel and wind turbine. For the Vermont legislature, watching this funding go away is painful! Replacing this tax with another tax on Entergy is an important goal of the legislature, even mentioned by Governor Shumlin in a press conference that was mostly about recovering from Hurricane Irene.

So, the legislature coming up with another way to make Vermont Yankee pay into the clean energy fund. House bill H479 plans to tax spent fuel. The legislature must think these fuel rods are very valuable, because t they plan to raise tens of millions of dollars a year taxing them!

As usual in Vermont, this is almost certainly going to end up in court. The proposed bill H479 talks about nuclear plants in Vermont (plural). But there is only one plant. A tax aimed at only one company is usually illegal. However, as I pointed out in my post about the "Entergy must pay Vermont's Costs in the Lawsuit law, the Vermont legislature passes bills are illegal, unconstitutional, and can't be enforced. These bills make the faithful feel good. "We're doing something, even if it won't actually work."

The bill has two parts: a tax on fuel rods (amount unclear, perhaps $15 million a year) and a state-required decommissioning fund. The state-required fund ("post-closure funding tax") would require contributions of $25 million a year.

Howard Shaffer has an excellent post on this bill, which was published at True North Reports yesterday. His post: H479 Analysis: The Power to Tax is the Power to Destroy. Here's a quote from Howard:

Opponents have already circulated a petition to towns and cities within 20 miles of the plant, requesting support for a tri-state Decommissioning Oversight Committee. They intend to meddle, as they have elsewhere in New England. Their “contribution” consists of trying to get ridiculously low levels of radioactive contamination as cleanup standards. This has resulted in hauling off multiple truckloads of demolished concrete that pass granite boulders along the road that are more radioactive than the cargo.

Image of dry cask storage from NRC student information area.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Enlightenment and Renaissance: Which Should Come First for Nuclear

Several months ago I blogged about an engineering presentation at Dartmouth. Dr. Swartz presented a talk with the provocative title: If Vermont Yankee Had an Accident Like Fukushima.

Swartz concluded that the "worried well" would be the major problem after any type of nuclear accident. Civilians would not receive radiation at a dose that would measurably increase their chances of getting cancer or limit their life-expectancy. They would also not believe any official assurances that this was the case. Dr. Swartz said it is up to the scientific community to explain the facts to people, and to reduce the health effects of widespread fear and anxiety.

In other words, we need education about radiation. We need widespread enlightenment about its effects.

Llewellyn King and Nuclear

Nuclear Townhall is sponsoring a set of videos about nuclear energy. In the short video below, Llewellyn King explains why the Enlightenment (education) has to come before the Renaissance (new plants) in this country. In history, the Renaissance came far earlier than the Enlightenment. So the nuclear industry has its work cut out for it!

Llewellyn King is an iconic figure in energy information, having founded Energy Daily about forty years ago. I remember Energy Daily from my days at EPRI. Copies were passed around among relatively low-level technical employees like myself and other project managers. Division heads received their own copies. Everyone read it every day, because it was the best source of insights for the energy industry. I do mean that everyone at EPRI read it. If a nuclear research manager had lunch in the cafeteria with a coal research manager, they would have a common point of conversation: the articles in Energy Daily.

King recently wrote a splendid op-ed about nuclear power: Sound the Trumpets for Nuclear Power. It's not particularly politically correct for this state. For example, his editorial praises the role of the U S Nuclear Navy in keeping the peace. Still, every now and again, I like to share the words of someone who speaks the truth, even if it is impolitic.

It makes a refreshing change from watching the Vermont legislature in action.

Update: I am pleased that this post is now featured on the Energy Collective.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Sixth Lawsuit about Vermont Yankee: Suing for the Cost of Replacement Power

I never should have done it. Four days ago, I published a post Five Legal Wrangles About Vermont Yankee.

I counted five, but lo and behold! Today there's a sixth lawsuit! You just can't keep up a count around here.

The Cooling Tower Problems

In August 2007 and July 2008, Vermont Yankee had widely-publicized collapses of a part of the cooling tower bank. The first incident happened because it happened. Vermont Yankee has rather old wooden cooling towers, and there was a maintenance problem on one of them. The second incident happened because of an incomplete repair of the first incident. In both cases, the plant stayed on-line, but de-rated power. It lowered power output for 11 days (first incident) and 12 days (second incident).

On the basis of these incidents, Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) and Green Mountain Power (GMP) are suing Entergy. They had to buy more expensive replacement power during the time of lowered output from Vermont Yankee. They say that the plant was negligent about maintaining the cooling towers, so they deserve the money in recompense. You can read their press release here and it has been widely reprinted as a news article. Albany station WAMC had a short program on the lawsuit, hosted by Pat Bradley. Don Kreis of Vermont Law School gives his opinion, and I give mine. (The program is three minutes long.)

If Everything Isn't Perfect, We're Suing

Briefly speaking, this is a ridiculous lawsuit. There are all sorts of utility contracts out there, and CVPS and GMP did not have a contract in which Entergy had to pay them for replacement power. That is the end of the story. GMP and CVPS didn't have a contract that required reimbursement.

The utilities are claiming that Entergy's plant maintenance was so bad that the de-rating was due to Entergy negligence. I have one word for that: Ridiculous! Vermont Yankee has a high capacity factor, and has had a series of breaker-to-breaker runs (from one refueling to another without a stop). In this case, it wasn't even off-line for the repairs. It had just powered down.

If utilities sued every time a plant powered down or went off-line unexpectedly, there would be no end to it! Of course, if a plant is not operating at full capacity, something went wrong. I suppose this could have been prevented if everything had been done perfectly. Let's look at coal plants, for example. They have to keep testing the coal they receive. Let's say they receive some coal and they don't get the chemistry analysis quite right and boom...their boiler is coated with slag and they are off-line. (Most coal plants test coal extensively and blend coal to avoid this situation. They don't always manage to avoid it.) Should a coal plant be sued on the basis that they should have done a better chemical analysis?

Utility Contracts

There are all sorts of utility contracts out there. Bob Hargraves and I visited seven plants when we led the ILEAD course on Energy Safari. If you read the posts on the Energy Safari blog, you will read about power plants that:
  • sell power at the market price when the price is high enough
  • sell power at a fixed price, and have to reimburse the utility when they have promised power but can't deliver
  • sell power at a fixed price, and don't have to reimburse anybody if their power isn't available
  • don't want to tell us the terms of their contracts
If a utility wants to buy power that is available without interruption at a given price, it writes a contract saying that the power plant must reimburse the utility for any power that is not provided. Of course, the utility can expect to pay more for power on that basis, just as you can expect to pay for an "extended service contract" on an appliance. Insurance against failure costs money.


The utility can also pay money for insurance. If the utility buys insurance against having to buy higher-cost power, it doesn't have to put any terms in the contract with the power plant.

For example, I attended a hearing at the State House when GMP and CVPS testified that they actually have insurance policies which would reimburse them for replacement power costs if Vermont Yankee power was not available to them. The policies began to pay if Vermont Yankee was off-line for more than about 30 days. I am sure the utilities could have bought other insurance: insurance against three-day outages, twelve day power reductions, anything. Insurance companies love to sell insurance! However, insurance against small events would have been expensive, since such events are very likely. Most companies self-insure for small problems.

Money or Harassment?

I can never know anyone's motives, of course. However, to me this lawsuit sounds more harassment than like a business situation. Surely the utilities know what kind of contract they have with Vermont Yankee? Surely they know that they don't have the sort of contract that includes reimbursement for replacement power? Surely they know about the various types of contracts? Surely they know that accusing a plant of negligent maintenance won't fly, when the plant is running from fuel loading to fuel loading (breaker to breaker), 500 days or more, without unplanned shut-downs? Surely they know they could have purchased insurance against the costs of replacement power? Surely they know they actually have purchased insurance against the costs of replacement power due to long outages?

GMP and CVPS are acting as if they don't know any of this.

Interestingly, the utilities want to have a jury trial on this subject. I think they are hoping to capitalize on the "Entergy Louisiana" and "strontium fish" rhetoric of the Vermont administration. They hope to win their case by pounding on the table.

Washing Machines

The Entergy lawyers can argue their case without any table-pounding.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. CVPS and GMP had opportunities to insure themselves against paying the cost of replacement power. They could have stipulated that we pay the cost of replacement power as a requirement in their contract with Entergy. Or they could have bought third-party insurance for their costs during power derates or outages. CVPS and GMP did not taken any such action.

"Instead, these utilities are in the position of someone who does not buy the extended warranty on the new washing machine, but expects to get free service anyway. We at Entergy are pleased that they expected perfect operation of the plant. We are pleased our general excellent maintenance and breaker-to-breaker runs may have led them to expect perfect operation. However, they took no steps to protect themselves if operation was imperfect. Though we are flattered at their expectations, we must point out that expectations of perfect operation are unrealistic, and are certainly not enforceable through the courts."

Picture of the Comerford Hydro plant from Energy Safari blog. Picture taken by Bob Hargraves. All other graphics from Wikipedia..

86th Blog Carnival at NEI Nuclear Notes

The 86th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at NEI Nuclear Notes.

Many of the bloggers at the Carnival have delved into books, legislation, long reports, and law cases. They have written excellent summaries, complete with information and opinions. Reading their posts, you can become knowledgeable without reading all that material yourself. On the other hand, if you have already read the original documents, you can comment on the blog posts. So you can still have fun!

Some of the reports include:
  • Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat reviews a book on the Integral Fast Reactor. This program included the whole fuel cycle for the reactors, including waste management.
  • At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yurman delved into the recently-passed Energy and Water Appropriations bill of 2012. Nuclear energy research was largely spared from major cuts.
  • At Yes Vermont Yankee, I described five, count'em, five current or recently-resolved lawsuits about Vermont Yankee.
  • At Nuclear Diner, Cheryl Rofer summarized Japan's interim report on the Fukushima accident. There is more known about the communication failures than about the physical failure sequence.
  • At Atomic Power Review, Will Davis describes an upcoming symposium about reporting on Fukushima. The reporting was pretty terrible, and there's hope it will be recognized at this symposium.
  • At Atomic Insights, Rod Adams looks into energy density and fuel availability. If we want a future of more than 100 years of abundant energy, the answer is New and Clear. (My pun, not Rod's.)
  • At NEI Nuclear Notes, Mark Flanagan reviews how France and the U.S. are upgrading reactors in response to Fukushima.
  • Brian Wang describes Toshiba's new system for cleaning soil of radioactive cesium.

Read the short, well written version of all this interesting material. Read the bloggers! Come to the Carnival!

Update Note: I also recommend Howard Shaffer's post today at ANS Nuclear Cafe: Vermont Outreach Continues as Opponents Reorganize

Monday, January 9, 2012

Podcast Discussion of Vermont Yankee (and more)

Vermont Yankee Discussion

Last night, Margaret Harding and I were guests on the Atomic Show podcast, hosted by Rod Adams. Adams is the blogger at Atomic Insights, while Harding blogs at 4 Factor Consulting.

The main subject of discussion on our podcast was the Vermont Yankee lawsuit, especially the interstate commerce aspects of the case. As Rod wrote in his description of our conversation:
It still confuses me why people who live in Vermont have such a basic misunderstanding of the country in which they live; no state has the right to control interstate commerce. All of them gave that up when they signed on as members of the United States of America.

Sigh. Rod doesn't live in Vermont. As I wrote in a recent post, Vermont also passed a blatantly illegal law requiring Vermont Yankee to pay Vermont's costs in the ongoing lawsuit. Governor Shumlin and his obedient legislature seemed determined to pass law after law that get argued right up to the Supreme Court. Where Vermont loses.

Here's a link to the podcast of Atomic Show #177, Vermont Nuclear Energy Politics.

Nuclear Communications, Then and Now

Vermont Yankee was not the only topic of discussion on the podcast. We take a detour into nuclear communications, and especially, how nuclear communications were messed up in the early days. At first, some of the "silent service" aspects of the nuclear navy dominated the nuclear power communications style. Adams was in the nuclear navy, so we weren't talking behind the backs of the many fine Navy Nukes that run our power plants! But the Navy communications style was a problem in the 70s and early 80s, and it is good to admit that.

I also recommend Rod's post Greetings from a proud member of the 'nuclear party'. This post was also briefly discussed on the podcast, and is up this morning at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Five Legal Wrangles About Vermont Yankee

Everybody expects Judge Murtha to rule on the Vermont Yankee lawsuit this week. However, this week is almost over. Unless Murtha is planning to throw his ruling into the famous Black Hole of the Friday News Releases, I think he will not rule this week. I could be wrong.

So today is a good day for a retrospective blog post on all five legal wrangles about Vermont Yankee. In reverse order of importance.

5. Mark 1 Reactors and the NRC

What: Beyond Nuclear and other groups petitioned the NRC to shut down all Mark I reactors.
What happened: The NRC turned the petition down. The NRC also said it would review the emergency containment venting. Of course, the NRC was reviewing the venting anyway, as part of the ongoing Fukushima-inspired reviews.
What's amusing: Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear dislikes the idea that the Mark 1 vents exist at all. Gunter said he can't sleep at night (or maybe he meant that the NRC people shouldn't be able to sleep at night) because Oyster Creek isn't safe.

4. Vermont Joins New England Coalition in Suing the NRC about a Water Permit that Vermont Does Not Require

What: The New England Coalition (NEC), a long-time anti-nuclear group, is suing the NRC, saying that they shouldn't have granted a license renewal to Vermont Yankee because VY doesn't have an appropriate water quality permit. The Vermont Department of Public Service joined the lawsuit along with NEC.
What happened: As is the custom, the State extends water quality permits unless something has changed about the water discharges. For the state to require Vermont Yankee to get a new permit would cost the state time and money. Instead, the state sued the NRC for granting a license renewal to Vermont Yankee without Vermont Yankee having a new water permit. There has been no ruling on this to date.
What's amusing: As I said in my blog post about the water permit: Vermont is suing the NRC, claiming it was the NRC's obligation to make sure that Vermont Yankee had an up-to-date permit. Apparently, the state didn't care about the permit, except that the state wanted to be sure that the NRC cared.

3. State Passes an Illegal Law to Bill Entergy for the State's Costs in the Lawsuit

What: When Entergy sued the state of Vermont, Shumlin quickly had a law passed requiring Entergy to pay for the state's costs in the lawsuit.
What happened: The law was immoral, unconstitutional, and can't be enforced. That's why the state Attorney General is not attempting to enforce it. As the Attorney General admitted: the concept is shaky. He's not trying to collect from Entergy.
What's amusing: Attorney General Sorrell also said that he doesn't want to muddy the waters by attempting to bill Entergy while the judge is deciding the main case. I find this selective enforcement of laws quite upsetting (sarcasm alert!). However, non-sarcastically, I do wish Sorrell had attempted to collect the money. Entergy would have objected, and Sorrell could have found himself defending this unconstitutional law in the same court, and in front of the same judge, as the main lawsuit. Since the bill-Entergy law exists, I wish Sorrell had enforced it and "muddied the waters."

2. Reactor Operators Sue the State For Loss of Property Rights in Their License

What: Several licensed reactor operators brought suit against the State of Vermont. They claim Vermont has denied them their jobs and taken their property rights in their licenses, without due process.
What happened: The lawsuit is in front of Judge Murtha of the District Federal Court. He is the same judge who is hearing the main lawsuit between Vermont and Entergy. As I described in a blog post, the operators have recently asked Murtha to not dismiss their lawsuit.
What's amusing: The State wants to frame this lawsuit as a relatively frivolous suit by people who believe they have a perpetual right to their jobs. However, it is actually a suit about the lack of due process in Shumlin's attempts to shut down Vermont Yankee. Again, I do wish the Attorney General was enforcing the state law that says Entergy has to pay the State's costs in the lawsuit. If the pay-costs case ended up in front of the judge at the same time as the operator's case, the judge would have to take notice of the lack of due process and constitutionality in Vermont's dealings with Entergy. As the lawyers say: Res ispa loquitur. The Thing Speaks for Itself.

(Okay. I know that isn't what the lawyers would probably say in this case. I'm not a lawyer. However, I do think the passage of an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder against Entergy does Speak for Itself.)

1. The Big Kahuna Legal Case: The Lawsuit to Keep Vermont Yankee Operating

What: In April, Entergy sued the State of Vermont. Vermont was attempting to shut down Vermont Yankee through various legislative maneuvers, despite the fact that Vermont Yankee has a license from the NRC.
What happened: The case was heard in September, and most people assumed a ruling would come by the end of the year. It hasn't.
What's amusing: As I noted in a blog post, there are at least three legal issues in front of the judge:
  1. State pre-emption of Federal regulatory prerogatives of nuclear safety.
  2. State breach of contract by one-sided changes in a contract.
  3. The plant's position in interstate commerce and the commerce clause of the Constitution.
The lawsuit is far from amusing: Vermont Yankee matters to this state. Are we going to be able to keep a clean in-state source of power and jobs and revenue?

However, one thing is moderately amusing as we wait for the ruling: both parties have said they would appeal. Whatever Judge Murtha decides, another judge is sure to look at his decision. So..the amusing part..why are we all waiting with bated breath to hear from him? Of course we want to know his ruling and his reasoning, but his ruling is probably just one step in a process.

Picture of the Brattleboro District Courthouse on June 23, 2011. It is the morning of the injunction hearing. Robbie Leppzer is interviewing me, and Vermont Yankee opponents are in front of the courthouse. Howard Shaffer took this picture.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Attorney General of Vermont Acknowledges "Shaky Concept" in Charging Entergy for Vermont's Expenses

The Bank of Entergy

Vermont Yankee received its license extension from the NRC, but the Vermont legislature thought a one-house vote on a one-sided contract change could shut the plant down. Entergy sued the state, and Governor Shumlin's reaction was swift. He would fight! In an April blog post, I quoted a Brattleboro Reformer article (now behind a paywall) as follows:

Attorney General Bill Sorrell said his office has been preparing for well over a month for the possibility that either Entergy would be suing the state or it would continue operating the plant, forcing the state to sue Entergy.

"We've known this was going to end up in court," he said. "The governor authorized us to get more resources, both in staffing and expert witnesses. We've got a lot of work to do, but we're not scrambling woefully behind." (emphasis added by blogger)

Shumlin hadn't caught on to the fact that the Bank of Entergy was closed. He still thought he could order up "more resources" whenever he wanted to do so. Shumlin was used to the idea that Entergy paid for everything.

Just as you must pay the costs for your car inspection and license certificate, Entergy was required to pay all state costs connected with their application for a Certificate of Public Good (CPG). Vermont took as much advantage as it could of Entergy's requirement to pay. For example, Entergy had to pay Arnie Gundersen and Peter Bradford $300 an hour to be on the Public Oversight Panel (POP). The POP was a new invention that the state required for this particular CPG application.

As I wrote in my blog post about the lawsuit:

"I don't think Shumlin really understands that the game has changed. The 'Bank of Entergy' is closed to him.....His only source of funding right now is the taxpayer."

Shumlin Attempts to Open the Bank with A Bill of Attainder

Shumlin immediately had an addition placed in another legislative bill. This addition required Entergy to pay Vermont's costs in the lawsuit. In another blog post, I called this an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder law, a law directed at one individual or company. I wasn't the only one to notice this law was immoral and unconstitutional.

Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School posted: It is my humble yet considered judgment that not only is the law unenforceable, but it is also likely unconstitutional.

John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute posted this in Vermont Tiger:
It’s one thing to bill back to a Public Service Board applicant the costs of issuing a final order on its application. But it’s quite another to bill back the state’s legal costs of defending against a litigant whose application the politicians have forbidden the PSB even to rule upon.

Gov. Shumlin’s ethically challenged billback scheme is one more deplorable disgrace to the once honorable state of Vermont.

Shumlin forced the passage of a bad law. It won't stand up to scrutiny. Has anybody in the state government noticed this?

Yes. The Attorney General has noticed.

The Shaky Concept

Today, Terri Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press posted: Despite law, Vermont not billing Entergy back for lawsuit.

Here's a quote from that post: Attorney General Bill Sorrell said his office has not billed Entergy back, and he conceded that’s because the concept is shaky.

He said the state is waiting for a verdict in the case and didn’t want to muddy the waters by trying to bill the other party in the meantime. If Entergy prevails in the case, “It’s uphill sledding to suggest they should pay our costs,” Sorrell said. “We would want to take a hard look at the legality of charging them.”

If the state prevails, he said, “We would take a harder look at it than if we lose.”

Translation: That law won't stand up in court. Vermont can't bill Entergy.

In short, the Bank of Entergy is closed to the State. However, I hope and expect that the Vermont Yankee power plant will remain open.


Full Disclosure: John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. I am director of the Energy Education Project, which is part of that Institute.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Other Vermont Yankee Lawsuit: Reactor Operators Sue For Property Rights

Everyone expected Judge Murtha to rule on the main Vermont Yankee lawsuit by the end of the year in 2011. This lawsuit was brought by Entergy against Shumlin et al in their capacities as officials of the State of Vermont. Entergy claims that the state cannot force Vermont Yankee to close, since the NRC has extended its license.

The main lawsuit is complicated, and I have blogged about the overlapping issues, including state pre-emption of nuclear safety regulations. For this lawsuit, you can also connect to all the filed documents on the Vermont Attorney General's web site.

On this suit, newspapers reported last year that "a ruling is expected by the end of the year." I don't know where they obtained this information. I cannot find a quote from Judge Murtha saying that he would rule in that time-frame. 2011 is over, and the ruling didn't happen.

The Operator Lawsuit

However, the Entergy lawsuit is not the only Vermont Yankee case in front of Judge Murtha right now. In June, several licensed reactor operators brought suit against the state. They claimed that the state has denied them their jobs and taken their property without due process. The state wanted their case dismissed, of course. In December, the reactor operators asked Judge Murtha not to dismiss their case. The Brattleboro Reformer has a reasonably complete article on the operators' request to Judge Murtha.

Basically, the state claims that the operators have no legally protected right to their jobs, so their lawsuit should be dismissed. The operators claim that the state is attempting to shut down Vermont Yankee without a legally-valid reason, and therefore, it is inflicting harm on the operators without due process. Much of the argument depends on interpretation of various due-process clauses in the Constitution. For example, the Fifth Amendment includes the words: No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...

Due process is a knotty concept in the legal world. If you read either the Wikipedia article on due process, or the Brattleboro Reformer on the operators' request to Judge Murtha, I can guarantee that your head will swim.

I'm not a lawyer, and we're not going there.

The German Experience

As far as I can tell, the operator's claims are very similar to the claims that Vattenfall, the big Swedish utility, is making in a lawsuit against Germany. Vattenfall owns several nuclear plants in Germany. As Spiegal On-Line reported in November: Nuclear Phase-Out Faces Billion-Euro Lawsuit.

From Vattenfall's point of view, the German government's decision to abandon nuclear power has destroyed the value of its assets....

The fact that Vattenfall is a Swedish company will help it in German courts, according to the Spiegel article.

According to Handelsblatt, Vattenfall has an advantage in seeking compensation because the company has its headquarters abroad. As a Swedish company, Vattenfall can invoke investment rules under the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which protect foreign investors in signatory nations from interference in property rights.

Last time Vattenfall challenged the German government, they settled out of court. Sounds likeVattenfall knows how to get compensated when the German government acts arbitrarily toward its power plants.

(By the way, nothing in the law seems to operate on time. The Spiegel article says that the Vattenfall lawsuit suit would be filed by Christmas. It wasn't. Newspapers said Judge Murtha would rule on Vermont Yankee by January 1. He didn't.)

A General Concept: Due Process

Following the individual twists and turns of due process is difficult, but the concept is easy. The government cannot deprive individuals or companies of their property without due process of law.

Civilized countries have tax laws in place (due process). Uncivilized areas have thugs who show up at the door and ask for "protection money." The thugs require arbitrary amounts, deriving people of their property according to the whim of the thugs.

Governments aren't supposed to do that. They aren't supposed to take your property or forbid you to operate your business, just because they feel like it. When governments act like thugs, they get themselves sued. The Magna Carta in Britain started the trend toward limiting the powers of government. Here and in Germany, recent lawsuits are forcing governments to acknowledge that their citizens also have rights.

I am no lawyer, so I can't even begin to predict how the current lawsuits will turn out. However, the principal is clear and straightforward. Even a government can't seize property or close down a business without due process.