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Vermont Yankee: Nine Half-Lives? 

There's been a flurry of activity in the past 24 hours related to Vermont Yankee, with Entergy and federal officials announcing a series of public meetings designed to placate the public's concerns about the recent tritium leak at the aging reactor.

As I noted in this week's "Fair Game", the Vermont Senate vote earlier this year was definitely not the final word. In fact, it may have given Entergy a road map to recovery — proving that this nuclear power plant may have nine half-lives.

Here's a recap of Wednesday's news, and a look at what's coming up the rest of this week:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ceded its time on April 12 at the Brattleboro Ramada Inn to Entergy, which will hold a sort of tritium science fair with company engineers who led the investigation into the tritium leaks, and will explain how they plan to clean up the mess and remediate the contaminated soil and groundwater.

In addition, the NRC has moved its planned April 12 public meeting to April 19, and changed venues to accommodate a larger crowd.

As you may recall, the NRC tried to hold a closed-door meeting with public officials from Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire at a Keene, NH country club. The meeting was canceled after a public outcry.

On Wednesday, the NRC made several announcements regarding Vermont Yankee. First, they announced that they will hold a public meeting with public officials and, wait for it, the actual public on April 19 at the Brattleboro Union High School.

Two informal "open house" sessions will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m., where members of the public and public officials can talk with NRC officials. A formal Q & A session will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. At the formal Q&A, both public officials and the public will be able to ask questions of NRC officials.

During the open house sessions, NRC staff will meet informally to discuss the groundwater
contamination at Vermont Yankee and provide the NRC's perspective on the potential public health and safety impact. The staff also will address regulatory requirements related to tritium, according to an NRC news release.

The NRC also announced that VY would be under "enhanced oversight" as a result of the tritium leak, and that the NRC has questioned whether Entergy was fully truthful to the agency.

"The NRC staff has requested additional inspection resources for Vermont Yankee in light of additional inspections and stakeholder communications associated with groundwater contamination at the site, and assessment, follow-up actions and stakeholder communications associated with our Demand for Information issued to Vermont Yankee on March 1," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for NRC Region 1.

In conjunction with the "enhanced oversight", the NRC issued what it calls a "deviation memo". That means the NRC will devote more inspection resources to Vermont Yankee, and concentrate those additional resources on groundwater contamination issues at the plant, and on reviewing Entergy's response to the NRC's earlier demand for more information related to the tritium leak and its understanding of what underground pipes exist, said Sheehan.

In addition to the April 19 meeting, the NRC will hold a public teleconference on April 13 at 1:30 p.m. This public meeting will focus on the results of a recent independent "safety culture" survey of Entergy's nuclear power plans. Members of the public who want to listen to the meeting by phone should call (800) 621-8432 and use pass code 44732.

Finally, the NRC asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a "state-of-the-art" study of the cancer risks facing people who live near nuclear power plants. The study will begin this summer.

But wait ... that's not all!

On Thursday, four Vermont senators will hold a press conference to discuss a newly-released fiscal analysis comparing several scenarios: A complete shutdown of Vermont Yankee in 2012; relicensure of VY; relicensure with investments in renewable energy; and, a shutdown combined with renewable energy investments.

The report was prepared by Vermont economists Thomas Kavet and Jeffrey Carr, and in collaboration with other consultants, the State of Vermont, and state utilities.

Sens. Robert Starr (D-Essex/Orleans), Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Richard Mazza (D-Grand Isle), and Phil Scott (R-Washington), and some members of organized labor, will discuss the fiscal analysis.

The report's key findings?

If you keep Vermont Yankee open and invest heavily in renewable energy, you create more jobs per year and add more money into state coffers than any other scenario, other than shutting down Vermont Yankee and aggressively investing in renewables.

A shutdown, and placing the plant into SAFSTOR, or mothballing it for up to 60 years, would cause a loss of about 1060 jobs (less than the 1400-plus jobs estimated by a pro-VY report earlier this year), and that job loss would lessen over time as 150 or so jobs were added to monitor the plant before it was decommissioned.

If Vermont were to simply invest in renewables, and not relicense VY, it would provide, on average the report found, "comparable employment levels relative to the VY relicense scenario during the first decade of the analytic period and then rapidly outpaces the VY Relicense scenario over the final 17 years. Annual
employment differentials relative to the VY Relicense case exceed 2,600 jobs by the end of the forecast horizon in 2040."

The best scenario is the "hybrid" one, where VY is relicensed and Vermont invests in renewable energy.

"Relicensing VY and adopting aggressive renewable energy policies yields the largest average positive employment and other economic impacts, with immediate job gains, no job losses and lower longer term power bills," the report found.

By the end of the forecast period in 2040, this scenario results in more than 2,600 jobs per year and nearly $400 million in gross state product (in 2012 dollars) than the VY relicensure scenario, according to the report.

To review the economic analysis, and other reports, related to Vermont Yankee, check out the Joint Fiscal Office's special page devoted to all things VY.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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