Saturday, October 6, 2012

High Level Waste and Legal Wrangles at Vermont Yankee

High Level Waste is a (legal) Question At Vermont Yankee

Low level waste is a success story, but high level waste is a legal question at Vermont Yankee.  High level waste storage has become a central issue as the federal court case begins the appeals process.

Spent Fuel as Pretext

In the past, the Vermont legislature attempted to shut down Vermont Yankee on several pretexts.  One pretext was that the original Memorandum of Understanding allowed Vermont Yankee to store spent fuel produced while that memorandum was in effect, through March 2012. The legislature claimed that spent fuel produced AFTER March 2012 was a different story.Vermont Yankee had no right to store that fuel.

In January, Judge Murtha ruled that Vermont could not shut down Vermont Yankee over spent fuel storage, because spent fuel is regulated at the federal level. That seemed clear enough, but the Public Service Board (PSB) seemed to take the attitude that Murtha meant the Vermont Legislature couldn't refuse to allow spent fuel storage but surely the PSB could refuse to allow it.

In March, Murtha clarified the situation by ruling again. (Ruling is here).  I quoted the ruling in an earlier blog post, as follows (emphasis added by me):

Therefore, Defendants are enjoined, pending the appeal of the Court’s final judgment and Merits Decision to the Second Circuit, from addressing the storage of spent fuel ... from bringing an enforcement action, or taking other action... to compel Vermont Yankee to shut down because the “cumulative total amount of spent fuel stored at Vermont Yankee” exceeds “the amount derived from the operation of the facility up to, but not beyond, March 21, 2012.”

That seems like that statement was pretty clear.

Expeditious Hearings

Of course, the state doesn't give up so easily. Recently, the state asked for "expedited oral hearings" in the federal appeals process, mainly due to the spent fuel storage issues.  Several days ago, the circuit court judge ruled in their favor about the hearing schedule. There will be expedited oral hearings, because maybe, just maybe, the state actually does rule spent fuel storage, and all that Federal prerogative stuff isn't very important (sarcasm alert).

As noted in the Brattleboro Reformer article, the state... argued that an expedited resolution is necessary to determine what will be done about the storage of spent nuclear fuel produced by the plant.  The judge granted their request for an expedited hearing.  Here's a link to the State argument for expedited hearings, the Entergy response, and the Judge's ruling allowing expedited hearings.  

To me, it seems clear that it is a federal prerogative to regulate spent fuel.  Nevertheless, the issue will  be heard in court once again.  The state will get its hearing in the federal court, with "expedited oral" arguments.

Note: you can link to many filings in the Federal and Public Service Board dockets at this page at the Energy Education Project website: Dockets for Public Service Board and Courts

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