On Friday, the Vermont Public Service Board voted to authorize Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc., the operators of the Vermont Yankee electricity generating station at 546 Governor Hunt Rd. in Vernon, to close down their nuclear power plant by the end of this year. Because Entergy planned to shut the Vermont nuclear plant down prior to its licensed end-term, the board was required to approve the shutdown.
Vermont Yankee was built at Vernon (5 miles south of Brattleboro) by Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation. It was first licensed on March 21, 1972, and officially opened on February 28, 1973. Entergy bought the plant in 2002.
The Vermont nuclear plant is similar to those at TEPCO’s ruined Fukushima Daiichi site. It has a power capacity of 1,912 MW and has a General Electric Type 4 commercial boiling water reactor with a Mark I wet containment. Boiling-water reactors contain between 370-800 fuel assemblies.
Vermont Yankee has had detractors for almost all of its 42-year history. Anti-nuclear protests clouded the plant in its first decades of operation. A cooling tower cell collapsed there in 2007, and tritium leaks as high as 2.5 million picocuries (125 times the EPA drinking-water standard) also occurred. Nonetheless, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the license for the Vermont nuclear plant on March 21 three years ago for operation at 1,912 MWe until 2032.
Entergy announced last August that it intended to shut down the reactor late this year for economic reasons. As has happened elsewhere, declining natural gas prices and low wind power prices are making nuclear-generated power too expensive. Coal-fired plants in the region are also at risk of closure.
The state and the company have adopted a memo of understanding that requires Entergy to provide $10 million for economic development in Windham County, which will lose more than 600 jobs at shutdown.
Another remaining issue is a 12-year-old National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that has been under review by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources for the past eight years. Continued discharges of warm water into the Connecticut River appear to have adversely affected water quality downstream and altered ecological systems in the watershed.
Entergy has reserved just over $600 million to date for decommissioning the Vermont nuclear plant, according to the Department of Public Service. This amount will not be adequate to meet the costs of full deconstruction, estimated at more than $1 billion according to the company’s 2012 Decommissioning Cost Analysis report.
The company has pledged to put $25 million toward site restoration after decommissioning the plant. However, presumably, the pledge would be moot if Entergy cannot totally decommission the plant.
“That $400 million gap raises issues about where the money will come from to dismantle the plant safely,” MassLive editorializes.