Saturday, November 12, 2016

Facts and Opinion on Entergy Sale of Vermont Yankee: Update

Dry casks at Maine Yankee
Who What Where When Why etc

In a press release  Tuesday, Entergy announced its intent to sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar.  NorthStar would then be responsible for decommissioning Vermont Yankee.  The NorthStar website shows that their main businesses include demolition, hazardous material abatement, and clean-up services of various types.  NorthStar will partner with three companies for the Vermont Yankee work: Areva, Burn&McDonell, and Waste Control Specialists.

Significantly, Waste Control Specialists already operates the Texas Compact Facility that accepts Vermont Yankee low-level wastes, and has applied to  be an Interim Storage facility for high-level wastes.  This is mere speculation, but Waste Control might well accept Vermont Yankee high-level wastes, if Waste Control becomes an Interim Storage facility.  In the meantime, Waste Control does accept Vermont Yankee low-level wastes. Waste Control participation in the decommissioning process will probably make the process go more smoothly.

Fast decommissioning

The NorthStar team of decommissioning experts expect to fully decommission the site (with the possible exception of continued dry cask storage) by 2030, while Entergy's timeline stretched to 2068 and beyond.

A more rapidly-completed decommissioning is what the state of Vermont wants, and this transfer should provide that rapidity. The transfer of the plant from Entergy to NorthStar has to be approved by both the NRC and the Vermont Public Service Board.   The sale is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, according to a Mike Faher article in Vermont Digger.

Power companies and decommissioning companies

On WAMC, Pat Bradley interviewed me (and others) about this sale. I said that organizations that
Vermont Yankee
when it was operating
operate nuclear plants don't have expertise in nuclear decommissioning, and vice versa.  Entergy would not be able to do a decomm as fast and as well as a decomm company could do it. I pointed out that the Zion plants had also been transferred to a decommissioning company (in that case, Energy Solutions) for decomm.

Looking again at the Zion plant, the decomm project run by Energy Solutions is ahead of schedule and below budget.  That is the sort of outcome that one can expect from a company that specializes in decomm.  Vermont Yankee can expect a similar performance from NorthStar. I think this is a good move, from Entergy's point of view.

How to Decomm

In an earlier blog post about decommissioning, I noted that industry articles say that two steps are necessary to ensure fast, cost-efficient decommissioning:

  • a quick downsizing  of existing workers
  • a contract decomm workforce that changes as the tasks change 

Decomm is more like building a house (the carpenters doing the framing don't do the electrical work) than running a power plant.  Decomm needs a flexible workforce, but a power plant needs a steady workforce.

(Yes. This is pretty nasty for the economics and stability of the locality. )

How to supervise these contractors?  As I note in the earlier post, power companies have hired contractors to supervise the decomm contractors, but this usually didn't work very well.  Nowadays, (Zion, LaCrosse), the company that owns the power plant transfers the whole NRC license to the decomm company. That company works with the subcontractors.

Finally, my opinion

This transfer was inevitable.  I don't like it, because the new company has no incentive to retain workers from the old company.  That is, my friends who work for Entergy will probably not continue to have local jobs after the plant is transferred to NorthStar.

Quoting Bill Mohl of Entergy in an article in Vermont Digger: "Mohl said he expects that NorthStar would want to retain some of the plant staff’s expertise, and he said those employees who lose their jobs will have opportunities to find positions at other Entergy facilities."

On the other hand, Entergy itself has little incentive to retain workers locally, since the people who ran the power plant at Vermont Yankee are not the people who would be best suited for the tasks of a decommissioning job.

In other words, what I really don't like is the fact that Vermont Yankee is closed and will be decommissioned.   This transfer is just a logical consequence of that sad fact.

Contracts: I think that "selling the plant" (Entergy) and "transferring the license"(Zion, etc)  are not quite the same.  License transfer seems to be temporary (until decomm is finished) while "sale" sounds final. At Zion, the license was transferred to Energy Solutions, and Energy Solutions also has control of the decomm fund.  However, the land and spent fuel remained with Exelon.

Since I have don't have first-hand knowledge of the the terms of either situation, I cannot comment on the contractual implications.  It is clear, however, that in either sale or transfer, the decomm company has full responsibility for the decomm, including the decomm fund.

UPDATE: This article by Dave Gram of AP states that the plan to sell VY is first-of-a-kind. As I noted above, other plants have transferred licenses to decomm companies, not been sold to those companies.

Upcoming meetings Updated: There are an  upcoming meeting of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen's Advisory Panel. The meeting is December 1 in Brattleboro.  It is a special meeting to discuss the sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar.  More information is at the Vermont  Department of Public Service site, including a link for submitting comments. (Note that the November 17 meeting, announced earlier,  has been cancelled. )

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