Thursday, June 11, 2015

Fear-mongering delays decomm: Guest Post by Richard January

A recent editorial in the Keene Sentinel claimed that Vermont Yankee is still a danger to its neighbors.  The editorial, NRC backs Entergy bid to turn off emergency data system at Vermont Yankee, begins with the following sentence:

Once again the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears ready to dismiss the health and safety of citizens in favor of keeping change in the pocket of Entergy Nuclear Corp.

Several Vermont Yankee supporters wrote letters answering this editorial.  This blog is proud to feature some of their letters.

Editorial about Vermont Yankee paints unfair picture, doesn’t fit the facts

By Richard January, Jaffrey NH

While presuming to claim the high ground of public safety, your editorial (“NRC backs Entergy bid to turn off emergency data system at Vermont Yankee,” May 20) throws unnecessary, inaccurate accusations.

Your editorial paints a picture of federal neglect and corporate greed that doesn’t fit the facts. You say “the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears ready to dismiss the health and safety of citizens in favor of keeping change in the pocket of Entergy.” If federal regulators and the nuclear industry are as cozy as you suggest, how do you explain that in the 50-plus year history of U.S. nuclear power industry has there never been a single radiation-related fatality? Just lucky? Closer to home, how do you explain Vermont Yankee’s outstanding employee and public health and safety record, earned under the scrutiny of onsite NRC inspectors and a transparent, mandatory event reporting system? The obvious answer is that clearly someone – indeed a well-trained, committed, 42 year army of dedicated professionals  – has been doing the vital job of nuclear safety extremely well. Does the Sentinel truly think that, having protected plant workers and neighbors during 42 years of splitting atoms, the NRC and Vermont Yankee will now fail to safely store cooling spent fuel?

What’s really happening here is that the State of Vermont, having already been told in two federal courtrooms they do not have credible arguments to encroach on the federal prerogative of nuclear safety, is yet trying again. At least they are consistent, as are the Federal nuclear overseers who are saying, “thanks, but we are confident in our regulations and we are satisfied Vermont Yankee will be safe.” I for one will sleep safer at night in New Hampshire knowing spent fuel storage is overseen by skilled, impartial, well-funded, successful Federal inspectors, rather than from a state capitol with little technical expertise, but with a big chip on its shoulder and an even bigger chronic budget deficit.

Which brings us to the subject of money. Your charge of corporate greed is superficial and manifestly untrue. When Entergy bought the plant in 2002, it agreed to provide Vermont utilities with constant, 24/7 four-cent per kilowatt hour power (dirt cheap) for 10 years, and to share revenue on out of state sales – yielding about $20 million to utilities last year. Over the years Vermont Yankee has averaged millions of dollars of annual cash and donations of in-kind equipment and manhours to the nearby tri-state area. In the December 2013 settlement agreement, Vermont Yankee agreed to pay the State of Vermont tens of millions of dollars for state taxes, local economic development, and renewable power – after the company beat the State in Federal court and didn’t need to offer a financial olive branch of any kind or size.

As if this wasn’t already proof enough of high-road financial dealing, Entergy then agreed to privately borrow $145 million to pay for the transfer of its fuel from the spent fuel pool to dry cask storage, rather than withdraw it from the decommissioning trust fund! One important reason: if decommissioning is to happen promptly, the trust fund must be left as whole as possible and allowed to grow as fast as possible. And that’s why it makes no financial sense to pay $120 million to maintain the emergency response organization at operational-plant levels. But more important it also makes no safety sense.

The old emergency response system provided a necessary tri-state response in the event of a worst-case accident at an operational nuclear power plant. In other words – it’s inappropriate! Vermont Yankee’s reactor is inoperative, the fuel is cooling in the pool, and the threat levels and response times are just not the same. In particular the Emergency Response Data System (ERDS) that the Sentinel insists be maintained is to provide data regarding an operating nuclear reactor gone awry. That’s just not going to happen. Vermont Yankee's new, multi-million dollar plan is a robust and compliant emergency plan, keeps qualified emergency response officers onsite, provides for community notification, and also won’t go into effect for more than a year from now.

The professionals at the NRC, including the independent Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), have, in the opinion of this retired nuclear engineer, made the safe, prudent call. Appeals may be filed. But I think the State of Vermont, and perhaps the Sentinel as well, might want to stand guard over the safe, prompt decommissioning of the plant, rather than play delaying games that do nothing for safety, cost everyone more, and push back decommissioning’s start date.


Richard January recently retired from his position as Senior Lead Engineer at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station.  His 42 year career started at Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation designing new fossil and nuclear plants.  He worked 35 years at Vermont Yankee.


jimwg said...

These antis! Wringing every drop of FUD from a corpse to spread more clueless nuclear apprehension over the land!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

I knew this was going to happen. Anyone who thought the anti-nuke kooks would stop their harassment when they got their way and ran VY out of town doesn't know how the kooks operate. They are going to harass and browbeat this thing until the last shovel of dirt is tossed onto the bones. And then they'll try extorting money from the grave. It isn't just a power plant they are burying, it is a message to the entire industry: we're going to come after you and won't stop until the last of you are gone forever. (Apologies for the histrionics, but I'm really getting weary of dealing with this.)