Thursday, May 30, 2013

The PSB, the Diesels and Sherlock Holmes

Bulldog asleep
Waiting for the Public Service Board

About a week ago, on May 21, I blogged about the fact that Vermont Yankee needs another back-up diesel, and the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) has been dragging its feet about giving permission to install that diesel.  Entergy has an NRC deadline to install the diesel, and therefore, Entergy sued the PSB in federal court.  The court hearing is scheduled for June 4, which is Tuesday, and coming up fast.

By denying the diesel permit, the PSB is interfering with nuclear safety, an area of federal jurisdiction. My post was A Court Case With A Deadline: The Black Start Diesels. 

That post included the "Breaking News" that the PSB hearing officer for the diesel docket had recommended that PSB grant the permit for the diesel.  The Department of Public Service also supports granting the permit for the diesel.  Here's a link to the Vermont Digger article by Andrew Stein on these recommendations that the PSB approve the diesel.

However, these were only recommendations. The PSB itself did not rule on this matter. The Vermont Digger article quoted Jim Sinclair of Entergy: “While we appreciate and agree with the hearing officer’s recommendation, we remain uncertain as to when the Board will rule,” he said. “Therefore, we will have to determine how this may affect the federal court hearing.”

Will the PSB Rule? Time Passes

The Vermont Digger article appeared on May 20, and the hearing is June 4.  I'll be blunt.  I was waiting for the PSB to make a statement.  I thought PSB might say:

  •  "We agree with our hearing officer and here's your diesel permit. " 

  • "To heck with our hearing officer's recommendations. We don't hand out diesel permits to outfits like you, and we'll see you in court."
But, so far, nothing has happened.  At this point, it looks like the PSB is happy to ignore the hearing officer and the Department of Public Service.  The court date is approaching fast.

I waited. I wanted to write a blog post about this, as soon as there was some news.

Sherlock Holmes and Me

Then I realized that the lack of news--is also news! Non-action is also information.

To quote Sherlock Holmes:

"You consider that to be important?" he [Inspector Gregory] asked.
 "Exceedingly so."
 "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
 "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
 "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
 "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893) Silver Blaze

In the Holmes case, the fact the "dog did nothing in the night-time" means that a stranger did not commit the crime.  If a stranger had been there, the dog would have barked. Holmes concluded that the crime was an inside job.

To me, the fact that the PSB has done nothing means that they are happy to go to court June 4, even though (IMHO) they are pretty sure to lose on this one. In my opinion, this shows they are heavily influenced by politics.  I think that the more often the PSB is in court, the more political credibility they think they have with the Shumlin administration and the Vermont legislature: We TRIED to shut that plant down! We really did.  They sued us all the time, but we kept trying. 

In my opinion, this non-action on the hearing officer's statement shows that political credibility is what matters to the PSB.  The PSB is supposed to be a non-partisan board, but this incident of the Dog in the Nighttime indicates something else. The Public Service Board is ignoring its own hearing officer and the State's Department of Public Service. It seems happy to be dragged into court.

A political agenda is the best explanation I can come up with.  I welcome readers' comments with other explanations.

Will Davis and Me

And here's a comment to start you off!  Will Davis hosted the most recent nuclear blog Carnival at his Atomic Power Review site.  The Carnival included a link to my post about the diesels, and Will Davis had this to say about it:

Will Davis
Atomic Power Review Note:  Regarding the Yes Vermont Yankee post linked and described above...  Just how many times in this post-Fukushima world would one EVER expect to find any group, anywhere, that could possibly justify campaigning AGAINST adding a back up diesel generator at a nuclear plant site?

I think that says it all.  I hope to receive more comments, but it will be hard to beat Davis's pithy comment.

And Yet Another Lawsuit

In related news, a group of intervenors just sued the PSB in Vermont Supreme Court, claiming the PSB should "enforce their own orders" and close the plant.  Here's the May 25 article by Bob Audette in the Brattleboro Reformer on that suit:  Groups Ask Vermont Court to Affirm PSB Rulings on VY.

This suit bears an uncanny resemblance to a lawsuit the Vermont Supreme Court turned down in March of this year.  Here's the Andrew Stein article in Vermont Digger  on March 28: Vermont Supreme Court Denies New England Coalition's Petition to Close Vermont Yankee.  Or, as I blogged on March 28 in Court Won't Close Plant During PSB Hearings. Since the Vermont Yankee matter is active in both federal court and the PSB, the Vermont Supreme Court is unlikely to get involved.  Courts don't like to step on each other's toes.

Frankly, I don't get this intervenor latest suit.  It looks frivolous to me: it looks like the same contentions as the lawsuit in March.  Why are they doing this? However, I freely admit I am not a lawyer, so there may be a reason. Once again, comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

The overall approach is the same one a thief takes in casing potential burglary sites: rattle as many back doors as possible and hope one opens up. These people (intervenors, politicians, etc.) are just probing for back-door ways to close the plant. They've tried frontal assaults. They tried the used fuel storage gambit. Remember that intervenors were very successful in the 1980s using the emergency plan requirement back-door shutdown. It cost us a perfectly good facility at Shoreham, and almost cost us Seabrook (remember The Duke of MA was tearing down emergency sirens just across the border from Seabrook). It's going to take a definitive ruling, perhaps by the USSC, to stop these intervenors from using the rules as end-around ways to effect a de facto shutdown of a perfectly safe and operational facility.

Ernest said...

Delay, obstruct and complicate. If the anti-nukes can't shut a plant down directly then they'll keep up low level harassment. Delay, obstruct and complicate, and they hope the incidental costs will make Entergy throw in the towel.

Tom Clegg said...

Anonymous Sorry I need to correct your history. What really closed Shoreham was a regulated industry. What happened was LICO built the plant. LICO was going through financial difficulty. When you build a nuclear power plant it puts a burden on your finances. Case in point Con Edison had to sell Indian Point unit 3 to New York State because they were going broke when they were building the Indian Point nuclear power plants. By the way their were suppose to build 8 nuclear power plants on that site. Getting back on track, LICO also went through a hurricane that year. So in a regulated time and almost going bankrupt GOV. Como (YES his Daddy) gave LICO a deal sell me your nuclear power plant for a dollar and a deal. LICO had no choice. They were regulated unlike today they could only sell to the state. Shoreham already had a license to run as a matter of fact they were running, at low power for test. So the anti nukes might claim victory with the emergency evacuation plan. The truth is it really wasn't the evacuation plan that closed Shoreham but it was a regulated industry and going bankrupt that closed Shoreham.

Anonymous said...

At the time the regs said you had to have an NRC-approved e-plan and that included sign-off and participation by local responders. When Soffolk County authorities refused to participate in the Shoreham e-plan, the NRC said it would not approve the plan, so no power operation until you had an approved e-plan. It was a back-door way of vetoing the plant operating license.

That inspired the Duke of Cack in MA to try to veto Seabrook by tearing down emergency sirens across the border in MA. No sirens, no functional emergency plan. They finally had to threaten vandalism charges to keep the state of MA from destroying utility-owned property to get them to stop.

None of this may be in the public record, I don't know. But I do know it happened that way. Some of my former students were at Shoreham when all this went down. Their lives and careers were ruined. And it was because of oh-so Cuomo that it happened. He ruined them.

Engineer-Poet said...

I'm surprised that Entergy hasn't just gone to court to get a writ of mandamus to force the PSB to rule.

Come to think of it, that might have been the fix for the refusal to cooperate with evacuation planning too.  Get writs of mandamus for the various councils, and put them in jail for contempt of court if they don't do their jobs.