In a recent op-ed, I wrote that the proposed Entergy-Vermont settlement is good for Vermont. Here's the post on this blog
and here's the post as it appeared on the local news site, Vermont Digger
There's a lively comment stream on the Vermont Digger post, with several comments objecting to my description of the plans for decommissioning. Here's what I said in my op-ed:
You can’t begin tearing down the building while the fuel pool is still in use. So there has to be at least a five-year delay between plant closing and the beginning of major decommissioning work. Therefore, there will be a gap of several years in the economic activity around the plant.
Some comments basically said: "I am not a nuclear engineer, but they can start decommissioning sooner." I encourage you to read the comments themselves. I have my answer to these comments below. I have added subheadings (in bold) that weren't in my original answer. Hopefully, these subheadings add to readability.
My answer to the objection
You say you are “NOT commenting on how or when decommissioning needs to be done” yet you seem to think it can begin immediately, despite the requirements of the operating fuel pool. Sounds like you actually ARE commenting on how and when decommissioning can be done.
You give the impression that if Entergy doesn’t start decommissioning areas other than the fuel pool immediately, Entergy is stalling. Actually, this is not the case, in my opinion. In general, the nuclear industry is very conservative about decommissioning. You might think: Hey, they can always start by tearing down the office building, no big deal. Actually, the industry shows itself quite reluctant to begin big deconstruction/decommissioning projects in close proximity to active nuclear plants (or actively maintained fuel pools that can’t be isolated easily). This is basically a safety precaution.
SAFSTOR for Safety
Considering the position of the fuel pool at Vermont Yankee, I would expect the owners to do nothing on site (except perhaps move some of the fuel to dry casks) while that fuel pool needs to be maintained. That’s the conservative way. I frankly have no particular opinion on when they move some of the fuel from the fuel pool. They can’t finish moving the fuel out of the pool for five years, and nothing much else can happen on site while the fuel pool is in active service.
Or rather, in my opinion, nothing much SHOULD happen on site while the fuel pool is in active service. Similarly, I think it would be a bad idea to decommission Dresden 1 while still operating Dresden 2 and 3 right next door.
No doubt, someone is going to say: “They dismantled Maine Yankee quickly! So what’s the problem here?” Well, Maine Yankee was a PWR with the fuel pool in the basement of a building that was comparatively easy to isolate. Vermont Yankee is a BWR with the fuel pool in a position that is not easy to isolate.
Waiting five years to begin serious decommissioning is the safest and most conservative way to proceed with the Vermont Yankee plant, and this has nothing to do with money.
Workforce issues and the nuclear opponents desire to feel good about themselves
About the workforce. Alas, decommissioning rarely uses very many members of the original workforce. The decommissioning jobs include chemical cleaning and deconstruction. These are not the same skills as running the plant. As others have noted, for decommissioning, teams of contractors with either specialized skills (chemical cleaning) or moderate skills in the building trades (deconstruction) do the jobs. In many cases, a decommissioning contractor is hired by the utility, and that contractor hires the teams. EnergySolutions is one such company, but there are others.
The people at the plant will be laid off, and there will be few of them involved in decommissioning. That is what has happened at other plants also. The opponents of Vermont Yankee do not want to admit this, because otherwise (conceivably) they would feel guilty about causing their neighbors to lose their jobs. But all their sweet sayings about “hoping the good people at VY will continue to work” doesn’t change reality. Decommissioning is almost completely done by teams of outsiders, no matter when decommissioning is done, early or late. That is just the way it is.
I have more explanations and some links in this blog post, including some workforce analysis from the Maine Yankee experience. I have written other blog posts on the subject also: you can search my blog for “decommissioning” in the little keyword box at the upper left.