Saturday, March 26, 2016

State Control of Decommissioning Funds is a Bad Idea. Guest Post by Richard January

Vermont State House
The Golden Dome is always after more gold
I read with some concern a news report about a handful of Vermont and Massachusetts members of Congress pushing for more state control over U.S. nuclear plant decommissioning.

As a retired nuclear engineer who sat at many state of Vermont public hearings regarding Vermont Yankee, the idea of giving states control over decommissioning fills me with dread. Vermont’s state energy officials routinely lose control of the microphone to shouting agitators. Many of the “experts” testifying about nuclear safety clearly lack knowledge in depth — a fact apparent to every nuclear professional in the audience, although not necessarily to the presiding state officials.

Although at least two senior state scientists who routinely address these meetings are competent to testify, the general impression I get from state of Vermont officialdom is an anti-nuclear bias and a shaky grasp of the hard and applied science of safe nuclear power plant decommissioning.

In short, I don’t want the state of Vermont, or any state for that matter, minding the store. I much prefer continued oversight by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which for decades has ensured the safe operation of the nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.

Also, unlike the NRC, Vermont is cash-strapped and forever seeking new funding from Vermont Yankee. In this environment, can we rest easy knowing that all of the state’s decisions would be driven solely by safety, and not by the desire for one more infusion of Vermont Yankee cash? I’m skeptical.

Richard January


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.

January has had  several guest posts at this blog.  The most recent was Fear-mongering delays decomm, in June 2015.


 In order to understand January's guest post, readers need to know that Vermont and other states are lobbying for the NRC to "tighten its rule-making" for decommissioning, as described in this article by Mike Faher at VTDigger. State claims it could be left with big bills for Yankee Cleanup.  The Faher article also appeared on the front page of my local newspaper, the Valley News.

I personally wouldn't say that the state wants to "tighten the rule-making."  I would say that the state wants to "get some money." The state wants, among other things, continued funding for emergency planning, even after the plant is shut down.  They also want SAFSTOR to be allowed for only 10 years, not sixty, and other expensive changes about dry cask storage.  These expensive changes would be funded by the plant, by the NRC increasing the decomm funding requirements.

As January points out, the state of Vermont is perpetually strapped for cash. Last-minute budget deals in the statehouse supposedly balance the ever-expanding state budget.  Losing Vermont Yankee funding for the Clean Energy Development Fund and for emergency planning--this undoubtedly  hurt the state's financial situation.  (Maybe Vermont should have thought of this earlier, when the governor was leading the chorus of "Shut It Down.")  In my simplistic opinion, the state doesn't want oversight: it wants money.  As January said:  the idea of giving states control over decommissioning fills me with dread.  

Indeed it does.

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