This is Vermont. Do not make predictions.
I'm reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. The book was originally called the Taliban Shuffle
, but now that the movie is out, it's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
. As I am reading, I am struck by how author Kim Barker is sometimes utterly dumbfounded by local people's reactions. Men become surprisingly violent after what she considers to be minor incidents, while major problems are greeted with shrugs about "fate." Several of her anecdotes end with her musing something like: "This is Afghanistan: what did I expect?"
Her story is sort of like the story of Vermont Yankee decommissioning. As I observe the process, I keep getting dumbfounded by what people do. (At least, nobody is shooting at anyone else.) I explain the situation to myself by musing "This is Vermont; what did I expect?"
The advantages of the NorthStar sale
Entergy has arranged to sell Vermont Yankee to a consortium of decommissioning companies headed by NorthStar. This is unusual, as a matter of fact, it is first-of-a-kind. Other plants have handed their licenses to a decomm company (Zion plants and EnergySolutions) with the expectation of getting the licenses back at the end of decomm. At the end of decomm, the original plant owner is responsible for the site.
With Vermont Yankee, NorthStar will buy the site, and will own the site. When the used fuel is removed, NorthStar can sell the site.
The sale to NorthStar is attractive to the state because, if owned by Entergy, the plant was going to be in SafStor for close to sixty years. In contrast, NorthStar expects to complete decommissioning by 2030. Similarly, Entergy was going to begin moving fuel into dry casks around 2020. In contrast, NorthStar expects Entergy to finish the process at that time. (Fuel moving is starting now.) An early article in VTDigger
gives the basic story of the sale.
Last month's NDCAP meeting
I was at the May 25 NDCAP
meeting (Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen's Advisory Panel). NorthStar and Entergy made presentation, and there were public comments. Here's a link to a video of the May meeting
, which was actually pretty civilized. Though the NRC was there, the meeting was run by NDCAP, and they kept decent order. In general, the NRC itself does not keep good order at meetings in Vermont,
but the NDCAP meeting shows it can be done. Many of my comments below stem from the May 25 meeting. If you want to see me speaking at the meeting, I'm at the 1:45 mark, approximately.
There will be a NDCAP
meeting tomorrow night at the Governor Hunt House on the Vermont Yankee campus. I won't be there this time.
NorthStar consortium can decommission Vermont Yankee effectively
After listening to the presentations, I am convinced that NorthStar can decommission the site quickly and relatively inexpensively. The company has experience with all sorts of sites containing both large structures and environmental disposal issues. While nuclear opponents think that radiation is very different from any other possible contaminant, companies that actually clean up coal plants and industrial plants know how to deal with all sorts of potential problems. NorthStar will treat radiation with respect, but not fear or awe. Entergy had a slide show at the May 25 meeting
: I have stolen their Concrete slide to head this post, and I include the Contaminated Soils slide below.
Of course, the opponents claim, sometimes loudly, and sometimes near tears (watch the video), that radiological contamination is so very different that all of NorthStar's capabilities don't matter. Whatever else NorthStar has done, they have only decommed rather small reactors. Therefore, according to the opponents, they are not qualified.
This is Vermont. What did you expect?
NorthStar wants to keep some of its costs and overhead structures confidential. The state of Vermont is basically okay with that
, but intervenors object vociferously.
In my statement at NDCAP on May 25, I talked about the time that I tried to track down the costs of different phases of decommissioning for other power plants. I couldn't track the costs I wanted to track. Everyone (the plants, the decomm companies, the NRC) told me that I was trying to obtain proprietary information, and they could not share it.
Judging by my experience, NorthStar is not being especially opaque. Yet the opponents continue to claim to be upset about transparency.
This is Vermont. What did you expect?
Since the Department of Energy still has not set up a plan for picking up used nuclear fuel, the fuel is stored on-site at the power plants. Though the fuel is cooled and in dry casks, it still requires some security, until the Department of Energy picks it up, or until forever, whichever comes first.
When vertically regulated utilities are in charge of taking care of something "forever," this kind of works. Of course, the utility will not necessarily last forever, but if it merges or goes bankrupt, the utility has regulators that will (hopefully) make sure it fulfills its obligations. In the case of a merchant plant (like Vermont Yankee) or a consortium (like NorthStar), no regulator has such a clear obligation.
Nuclear opponents worry that "the taxpayer" will pick up the bill. I am sure NorthStar will decomm the plant successfully, so the only bill I imagine the taxpayers might have would be a bill for ongoing security around some dry casks. Not a huge bill, year by year, but a bill.
I think the problem of paying for security would be about jurisdiction, not safety. This problem is not unique to Vermont. The question of "who is in charge decades later" could happen in any RTO area.
Yet there is one aspect that is unique to Vermont. One entity, Entergy, is planning to sell the plant to another entity, NorthStar consortium. As I said at the beginning, this is a First of a Kind financial arrangement for decommissioning.
My feeling is that since neither entity is supported by being part of a regulated utility, it probably doesn't matter that much.
But I admit it: This is Vermont, and I don't know what to expect.
Three more issues: Rubble, Employees, PSB appointments
This post is too long. So I will go over these issues rather quickly.
Northstar plans to fill the large foundation holes with rubble from the buildings. This is a standard practice, and far less expensive than trucking the rubble out to disposal and trucking fill in to the site. However, Entergy said that they would not use this technique, so the opponents attack NorthStar for bad faith in saying they will use the technique. Well, when you transfer a plant to another company, the other company is not obligated to do everything the same way the former owner said it would do things. It's up to the PSB to decide what needs to be done. Howard Shaffer wrote an excellent letter on this topic,
which has appeared in several local papers.
I continue to worry about what will happen to Vermont Yankee employees who are near retirement age when NorthStar takes over. See my note at the end of an earlier post.
This is an unresolved issue, as far as I know.
This is Vermont. Don't make predictions.