Monday, March 3, 2014

Decommissioning, Governor Shumlin, and Dry Cask Storage

Did I Write "Patronizing Bunk"?

I wrote an op-ed about the state's agreement with Entergy about decommissioning. I published it on this blog, and it was also published on Vermont Digger. On Vermont Digger, the title was Entergy Settlement Before the PSB is Good for the State. It had a lively comment stream on Vermont Digger.

Governor Peter Shumlin
In this op-ed I wrote:

However, in the course of the negotiations, I suspect the state learned some facts about  decommissioning.

Two anti-nuclear commentators called my statement: "patronizing bunk." They claimed that the state was well-versed in decommissioning from the start.  The state didn't have to learn anything.

Well, I begged to differ.

Here is part of the answer I posted, with slight edits.

About Patronizing

I was not simply being patronizing. When I wrote: “the state learned something about decommissioning,” you thought I was referring to the DPS (Department of Public Service). Actually, I was referring to Governor Shumlin. I was not clear, which was my fault. But then again, I tend to use locutions like “the state” to avoid finger-pointing at individuals.

Perhaps, instead of being vaguely snarky, I should be more direct, even if it turns out a bit more pointed at one man. Frankly, this would have been uncomfortable for me to write originally, but I am writing it to show what I was thinking about.

Below, I have written something more accurate, more pointed, and with references. Perhaps I should have written the material below, instead.

About Governor Shumlin

What I should have written:

And, it looks like over the years, Governor Shumlin himself is learning something about decommissioning. Here’s one of his press conferences from 2011:

The title includes SHUMLIN SAYS SAFSTOR WASN’T PART OF DEAL WITH ENTERGY. The article includes Governor Shumlin arguing with reporters who quote the MOU at him. It’s kind of funny, if it weren’t sad.

From the same press conference, but this time a direct quote from Shumlin:

“The jobs gap doesn’t really happen for about 16 years,” he said. “Five to six years for the plant to cool down, gotta keep all the systems running, that requires a number of employees, several hundred. And ten years of decommissioning. So the jobs cliff, despite what they tell you in those 30 second advertisements, is not as significant as long as they keep their promise on decommissioning the plant whenever it shuts down.”

The Governor is Learning

Recently, the Governor has had to eat his words and acknowledge SAFSTOR is allowed. He has had to acknowledge that the plant will not keep running for five or six years with several hundred employees. It is nobody’s fault but his own that he said these absurd things at a press conference. Nobody forced him to make such a fool of himself.

You gotta give the man credit, though, Shumlin is learning. Maybe the learning didn’t happen at the negotiations, maybe it did. Maybe it happened before. I should not have said “when” it happened, because I don’t know. But he’s gone from myth-based “hundreds of people for five-six years” to “everything will be in dry casks within seven years.” He has more of a grasp of reality now. I don’t know and should not have said exactly when he learned these things. But he is learning.

I want to say something though about his advisers. Where were they? Surely someone could have told him the facts of life about the M O U and what happens during decommissioning. Apparently, nobody did. People just let him go out there and say a bunch of things that simply are not true. He is learning, for sure. Are his advisers learning?"

Updated: The Dry Casks.  Vermont Digger Special Report on Decommissioning

I wrote a draft of this a few days ago, but I didn't post it because I was busy with our daughter's book launch.

Yesterday, Vermont Digger published a special report on remaining areas of disagreement between Vermont Yankee and the state agencies in Vermont.  John Herrick wrote Despite Recent Agreement, State and Entergy Remain at Odds Over Funding for Dismantling Vermont Yankee. 

According to this article, the state is concerned that Entergy may use decommissioning funds to move used fuel from the fuel pool to dry casks.  Attorney General Sorrell says that If Entergy elects to remove money from the fund, Sorrell said the state will take legal action.  Mr. Sorrell apparently thinks that moving fuel  to dry casks is not part of decommissioning: the state wants the decommissioning fund reserved for "tearing down the plant."

Umm...last I looked, only the NRC could say what a decommissioning fund can or cannot be used for.

Sigh. I thought the state had learned that the federal government, not the state, is responsible for regulating decommissioning and nuclear safety.  Oh well.  

Maybe they are not learning as fast as I thought they were learning.


trag said...

I had a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I was quite excited when I saw the title to this entry at another site, without the comma. It read, in part, "Decommissioning Governor Shumlin..."

Should have known it was too good to be true.

"I want to say something though about his advisers. Where were they?"

You're assuming his advisors are both well informed and want Shumlin to be. From what I've seen, it's entirely possible he has agenda-based advisors. They might not even have the facts.

The anti-nuclear folks operate in an echo-chamber that never hears the pro-nuclear argument. Whereas the pro-nuclear population cannot avoid being familiar with the anti-nuclear playlist.

But even if they were well-informed, informing Shumlin of those facts would not encourage him to follow the proper dogma. So, for example, if he hired his advisors from the UCS or GreenPeace, they might well have simply failed to mention inconvenient facts that might possibly change Shumlin's mind to something more reasonable with respect to nuclear electricity generation.

Tom Buchanan said...

One of the reasons it may appear that Governor Shumlin is confused is that Entergy appears to be confused. In docket 7862 Entergy provided a graphic showing staffing levels for a shutdown in 2032, filed with the PSB as WRC-Cross-1. The DECON scenario shows staffing just for the DECON function starting at 250 in 2032 and then rising to more than 350 over the first year or two. When Entergy witness William Cloutier was asked how long it takes to move from 620 workers at a functioning plant to the 250 listed in WRC-Cross-1, he said it would be about nine to twelve months (see the transcript from the morning of February 12, 2013, page 109.) Thus the testimony provided by Entergy shows a move to DECON would take about 9 to 12 months, and would then result in staffing of about 250 rising to 350 for a few years, which is a boat-load different than a move to SAFSTOR which WRC-Cross-2 (also an Entergy graphic) shows would drop employment to fewer than 100 in about a year. If Entergy wanted to tell a story of low employment for five (or more) years after shutdown even with a DECON scenario, it could have done so, but the story they spun shows DECON offers a better employment buffer immediately, and lasting for five to ten years.

Anonymous said...

Well, it isn't providing any "employment buffer" (whatever TF that is) for me. I'm still getting the boot at the end of the year. The only "buffer" I have is unemployment, DECON or SAFSTOR or whatever you want to call it. Thanks a lot, chumps.

Unknown said...

Great post!
The comments show the strange world this issue has become.
Estimates of how many people will be needed for decommissioning become solid some how.
Decommissioning technology is evolving. There is now one company just in the business at Zion plant.
How many GE MKI plants are in the decommissioning data base?

Meredith Angwin said...


I think you know how sorry I am about this. I am also deeply sorry that the government of Vermont and the institutions of Windham Country (such as the Windham Regional Commission) either tried to close the plant or were studiously “neutral” about the plant operation. The people at the plant deserved better from their state government and their neighbors.


Thank you for your support. Yes, there aren’t many decommed Mark 1 reactors in the database of decommissioned plants. Only one, as I recall, and it was less that 100 MW. I plan to look this up.

Trag and Tom

Yes. About the advisers. Both of your comments are pushing me to an area to which I would rather not go. I have consistently given Governor Shumlin the benefit of the doubt--”the poor guy didn’t know, the poor guy is learning.”

There is, of course, another explanation. It is: “He knows. However, what he is saying is NOT what he knows to be true." In other words, he was lying. I am not going there, but I just want you both to know that I am not totally naive. I have certainly considered that as a possibility.


Your comment is thoughtful, but your chronology is off. It will take me another blog post to really answer this.

For now, I note that you don't address why Shumlin claimed SAFSTOR wasn't part of the agreement and why he accused a reporter of "working for Entergy" when she differed with him. Was he confused or was he....?

I plan to get a blog post up about this in a few days.

Anonymous said...

Look, people, its obvious what Scumlin and these other rats were thinking. In their "minds", as soon as the operators shut down the plant, they'd go pick up jackhammers and start demolishing the place. They thought that engineers who were previously analyzing fuel cycles would be happy to pick up a sledgehammer and start knocking down walls. They had no clue as to what was involved. They are as dumb as a box of rocks. Why else would Scumlin say the stupid things he did?

Rod Adams said...

I'm not well known for being polite or reticent about suggesting that political leaders often have ulterior motives, or that those motives often involve protecting the interests of financial supporters rather than voters.

Here's my guess - Shumlin and his advisors had a pretty good idea that closing Vermont Yankee would cause an easily identified group of people to lose their job and an easily identified community to lose a major portion of its tax base.

They did not care because that same action would provide them a substantial boost in income by selling the power that would be needed to replace the power that Vermont Yankee was providing.

It would also allow them to obtain special treatment in building additional generating capacity.

By ignoring or feigning ignorance about the immediate job losses, the operatives were able to insert a lot of distractions that obscured their actual motives. They were able to make it appear that the issue was about "safety" or about the inability to trust an out of state company - while being much more willing to trust a foreign (Canadian) company.

As I see it, there are two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the last batter is facing an 0-2 count. However, the plant is still generating power, still has NRC permission to continue operating for the next 19 years, and still has a well trained staff.

If you live in Vermont, Massachusetts or New Hampshire, please take a look at the experience in the New England energy market in the past 4 months. Tell your elected officials that it would be plain nuts to continue with the current plan to encourage Entergy to shut down the plant and ask them to beg for a decision reversal.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Meredith Angwin said...


I appreciate your comment, and I truly wish I could do more to save the plant. I know Entergy tried to sell it. I also think that few businesses would make a decision to buy any business in Vermont, much less a nuclear plant in Vermont.

Our senior Senators in D C are pretty good at getting military contracts into the state. Recently, Plasan plastics decided to move all of its non-military work out of state. Here's Roper's commentary on the steady loss of jobs around here.

If the plant were in a different state, it could be saved.