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On Thursday, March 22, the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) will meet to discuss the sale of Vermont Yankee from Entergy to NorthStar. On March 2, all the parties to the sale (and all but one of the intervenors) signed off on a Memorandum of Understanding.
This Vermont Digger article by Mike Faher covers the memorandum and is a little easier to read than the legal document. State, NorthStar strike deal for sale of Vermont Yankee.
Why is the proposed sale a big deal? I will attempt to answer that question by answering three subsidiary questions and providing some links.
1) What is this deal about?
Choices After Entergy closed Vermont Yankee, the next step was decommissioning. Entergy looked at the available funding for decomm, and it proposed that the plant be put in SAFSTOR while the funding grew and the radioactivity of the plant diminished. (SAFSTOR can last for up to 60 years.) Nobody really liked this idea, but it was financially practical and legal. Entergy didn't like the plan because Entergy has expertise in running plants, but not in decommissioning them. The state didn't like it because the plant would be just sitting there, for decades.
Decomm Companies Many other nuclear plant owners have faced this issue, and most have hired a decomm company to do the actual decomm. This is a little complicated, due to nuclear regulations. For example, when Exelon planned to decommission the Zion units, it hired the specialist firm EnergySolutions to do the actual work. However, "hired" is not quite the way it happens. Exelon transferred the Zion license to EnergySolutions, and EnergySolutions will transfer the license back to Exelon when the decomm is complete. The accumulated decomm funds were transferred with the license. In effect, EnergySolutions owns Zion temporarily, and is directly responsible to the regulatory agencies during decomm.
The proposed Entergy/ NorthStar deal took this type of deal a step further: Entergy will sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, permanently.
A Sale The sale plan led to a lot of excitement among the local nuclear opponents. A first-of-a-kind transfer (direct sale, not temporary ownership), and happening in Vermont? Oh my! The list of intervenors grew and grew. I felt sorry for both of the companies (Entergy and NorthStar) that had stepped into the morass of Vermont anti-nuclear organizations. These organizations saw this transfer as their last chance to show the world how deeply anti-nuclear they are. I think they also saw it as their last chance to wring concessions of various types from the companies involved.
Signatures The big deal is that on March 2, all but one of the intervenors signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the terms for the transfer. Basically, Entergy and NorthStar added more bonds and more insurance and more money to the pot, and everyone signed off. It was not just a win for the intervenors though: the decomm is allowed to use rubbilization, which means using clean debris from building demolition to fill basements. This had been a huge issue. My blog post from last year contains facts and links, Rubble at Vermont Yankee: Framing the Discussion
Well, everyone signed off on the MOU except Conservation Law Foundation, who felt there wasn't enough money or enough guarantees. CLF predicts that the decomm will run out of money and leave Vermonters on the hook, etc. My own prediction is that CLF will do everything in their power, including lawsuits, to try to make their prediction come true.
2) What are the next steps?
There are quite a few. Vermont State agencies, NorthStar and intervenors have agreed on the MOU, but the state Public Utilities Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must still rule on it. Once again, Faher at Vermont Digger has a good article on this: Vermont Yankee sale case will extend into summer. Within that article, note that Guy Page urges plant supporters to come to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission hearing on April 12. (Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.)
Guy Page's suggestion about the April meeting leads to an easy segueway into the next question:
3) Should I go to the Thursday NDCAP meeting?
Probably. NDCAP is an advisory committee, and its meetings are often very informative. This one will include presentations from Entergy, NorthStar and state officials. The meeting is going to be held at a bigger venue (Brattleboro High School) than usual, because they expect quite a crowd. In Brattleboro, "quite a crowd" can be unpleasant, as legions of nuclear opponents come in (sometimes by buses) from Massachusetts and all over Vermont and New Hampshire. On the other hand, the NDCAP meetings are usually fairly orderly.
As I said in my book, meetings are more civilized when the groups are more even. So I do suggest that you go.
On the other hand, I am not sure I will go. I may have a family visit that interferes. I may be there, or I may not be there. That makes it harder for me to write: "Absolutely, go!"
If I possibly can, I will be there.