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Posts Tagged ‘Vermont Yankee’


Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

March 22, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Chairman Gregory Jaczko has announced that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a 90-day study on the significance of Fukushima for American reactors with updates at 30 and 60 days.

The announcement came yesterday as top NRC officials said the situation in Japan did not warrant any immediate changes at American nuclear plants. “Every single day, we assess whether or not there is some additional regulatory action that needs to be taken immediately in order to address the information we have to date,” R. William Borchardt, executive director for operations, told the full commission in a televised hearing. Borchardt said that every day NRC inspectors double-check emergency equipment at each reactor “to make sure they haven’t fallen into disuse because they haven’t been used.”

Attention has already focused around the ventilation pipes, which have been hardened in U.S. reactors but may not have been similarly upgraded in Japan. If the pipes at Fukushima remain as simple ductwork, they could have been overpressurized when workers vented the steam, which led to several hydrogen explosions.

Dramatizing how serious the NRC’s responsibilities will be, another division of the agency issued a 20-year license renewal for Vermont Yankee even as the commission was holding hearings. Vermont Yankee is a twin of several of the Fukushima reactors. Commissioners said there would be further review of the relicensing as details of the Japanese accident come to light.

Overall, the commissioners expressed confidence in their ability to continue regulating nuclear development.  “Some may characterize that our faith in this technology is shaken,” said Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki. “But nuclear safety is not and cannot be a matter of faith. It must be a matter of fact.”

Read more about it at the New York Times



Friday, March 11th, 2011

March 11, 2011
Nuclear Townhall


Five years after the initial application, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to conclude the legal proceedings on Vermont Yankee’s application for a license renewal, which will allow the reactor to operate through 2032.

“This is the final step in the NRC’s detailed technical and legal process of examining whether it’s appropriate to issue a renewed license,” said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko in a press release. “Since there are other approval processes outside the NRC, we’ll continue to ensure Vermont Yankee is meeting the appropriate public health and safety standards regardless of the reactor’s ultimate status.”  The current operating license, issued in 1972, is due to expire a year from now.

The processes “outside the NRC,” of course, are the state proceedings, in which the Vermont Legislature and newly elected Governor Peter Shumlin have vowed to close the reactor when its current license expired this year. Although NRC jurisdiction trumps state regulation, Vermont has a unique arrangement with Entergy that allows it to veto the license renewal. The deal was struck when Entergy bought Vermont Yankee in 2002.

The decision is sure to set off renewed efforts to have the state legislature vote to close down the facility. After tritium leaks were found in the reactor last year, the Vermont State Senate voted 26-4 to instruct the Vermont Public Services Board to close down the reactor but the measure was never approved in the State Assembly. Governor Shumlin, who led the effort in the Senate, was elected last year mainly on the basis of his campaign against the reactor.

Since then, however, many people are having second thoughts. The move would cost the state two-third of its electric power and would require the purchase of much more expensive sources, probably hydroelectric power from the James Bay,  in northern Canada requiring new power lines.  IBM, the state’s largest employer, has said it will close its giant chip manufacturing plant in Essex Junction if it is forced to pay higher costs for electricity. On Thursday, however, Shumlin said he will continue the effort to close the plant.

Vermont Yankee has suffered its own difficulties in recent years. In 2007 a cooling tower collapsed and 2009 produced the tritium leaks that kicked off the current controversy. Although it took several months to pinpoint the source of the leaks, they never reached the Environmental Protection Agency’s “level of concern” for tritium.

Plans to offer “green” alternatives have quickly run into roadblocks of scale and their own environmental impacts whenever they have materialized. Replacing only a small portion of Vermont Yankee’s 660 megawatts would require erecting windmills across large portions of the state. When a local entrepreneur proposed building a 30-MW wood-chip-burning plant in neighboring Massachusetts, environmental groups immediately overwhelmed it with objections. It would take 20 such plants to replace Vermont Yankee.

Residents of Vernon, where the plant is located, still remain almost unanimous in their support for relicensing the plant.

Read more about it the NRC


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

February 16, 2011
Nuclear Townhall


In a maneuver that will could directly complicate licensing for plant extensions and ripple into new plant siting, three northeast state attorney generals have sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission contesting the recent waste confidence ruling that will allow utilities to store spent fuel for sixty years on-site.

"Whether you’re for or against re-licensing Indian Point, we can all agree on one thing,” New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman told the Associated Press. “Before dumping radioactive waste at the site for 60 years after it’s closed, our communities deserve a thorough review of the safety, public health, and environmental risks such a move would present.


The New York State Attorney General’s office is already on the record as opposed to relicensing Indian Point – as is Governor Andrew Cuomo and the entire New York political establishment.  The waste confidence lawsuit is another step in a multi-pronged effort to close the plant, which supplies New York City with one-quarter of its electricity.

Connecticut has not been so overtly anti-nuclear, although former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (now U.S. Senator) did propose a windfall profits tax on reactors a few years ago because he said they were profiting unfairly from the run-up in oil prices. Millstone Units 2 and 3 have already had their licenses extended through 2035 and 2045 respectively.

Vermont, of course, is intent on closing Vermont Yankee after Governor Peter Shumlin won election in large part by opposing it. Vermont is already dealing with initial consequences, however, as IBM, the state’s largest employer, has announced it will leave without Vermont Yankee’s electricity.

All this might serve as a cautionary harbinger of things to come, except that litigation-minded attorneys in the state offices seem indifferent to the consequences. When asked how the state planned to replace Indian’s Point’s 2000 megawatts, one attorney in the New York office responded, “That’s not our problem.”

Read more about it at the Hanford News


Friday, January 28th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 28, 2011

The first indication that the 112th Congress will give a high priority to nuclear energy has come from the new Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who knocked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a statement for taking five years to decide on license renewals.

"Today marks an unfortunate milestone for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the timeline for the reactor renewal process has now doubled without explanation,” said the chairman. He noted that the renewal applications for the Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee reactors “eclips[ed] 60 months with no end in sight. “Gone are the days of reasonable expectations for a stable and predictable regulatory process," continued Upton. "This uncertainty and lack of transparency in the process is needlessly putting plants and thousands of jobs at risk.” 

According to the NRC’s own website, “License renewal is expected to take about 30 months, including the time to conduct an adjudicatory hearing, if necessary, or 22 months without a hearing.”

Both Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee are hot-button issues and any decision will be met with huge opposition. A renewal is likely to end up quickly in court.

But the real question said one industry source is "if license renewals seem a problem, what about new licenses?” 

"Upton is hitting the right buttons, however,  Nuclear energy will never resurge in the U.S. until the NRC licensing process become more accountable and transparently predictable."

Read more about it at the Energy and Commerce website


Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 13, 2011
From the Editors

Talk to any of the anti-nuclear activist like the ones trying to close down Vermont Yankee and they’ll tell you the solution to replacing its 600 megawatts is “renewable energy.”  Windmills, small hydro, solar panels and biomass will do the trick. Easy, right?

Well, Vermonters and their neighbors in Western Massachusetts are getting their first taste of renewable energy and they don’t seem to like it at all. Environmentalists, lawyers, schoolchildren and little old ladies in tennis shoes are up in arms over Beaver Wood Energy LLC’s proposal to build a 29.5-megawatt biomass plant in Pownal, in Southern Vermont, on the site of the old Green Mountain Racetrack. The $250 million plant would burn wood wastes from forestry operation in the region. Beaver Wood is also trying to build an identical plant 60 miles north in Fair Haven.

As any environmental literature will tell you, such biomass operations are “carbon-neutral,” only releasing carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere in the last few years. Therefore they represent a critical step toward preventing global warming. Yet somehow members of the Bennington-Berkshire Citizens Coalition – who often seem to bear a strange resemblance to the people opposing Vermont Yankee – haven’t gotten the message. These backward-looking citizens went to the Vermont Public Service Board in December and persuaded its members to stop Beaver Wood from doing site preparation on the grounds that it has not yet been awarded a “certificate of public good.”  The decision was important because starting before January 1 would have qualified Beaver Wood eligible for oodles of stimulus money coming out of Washington.

“Critics of the Pownal plant raise questions of air quality, water consumption, traffic, ash disposal, damage to tourism and property values and the developer’s intentions and trustworthiness,” said a long, front-page story in the Hill Country Observer, a bi-monthly that circulates in the region (but is not available online). “Deeper issues are the impact on the region’s forests – the plants would burn nearly 100 tons of wood a day – and whether electricity generated by burning wood is really effective in reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change.”  Guess someone from the Sierra Club Natural Resources Defense Council will have to come in and straighten these folks out.

As typically happens, residents in Fair Haven, who will be living right next door to their plant, are enthusiastic about the potential for jobs and tax revenues. But the Pownal proposal has intersected the Bennington-Brattleboro-Williamstown axis where large populations of college-educated citizens find the whole business of producing energy an annoyance at best.

In any case, the good people of the Green Mountain State will have to make up their minds soon. With Vermont Yankee scheduled to shut down in 2014, they will need 20 such wood-burning facilities around the state to make up for the lost electricity.

Read more about it at i Berkshires


Thursday, December 9th, 2010


Nuclear Townhall
December 9, 2010
From the Editors

Exelon finally succumbed to pressures from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and announced it will close Oyster Creek, the nation’s oldest operating reactor, in 2019, ten years ahead of schedule.

The reactor is one of three older installations that has come under intense political pressure to close down in the past year from politicians who also claim to be highly concerned about global warming. Vermont Yankee and New York’s Indian Point, both owned by Entergy, are in similar crosshairs, much for the same reasons.

Exelon’s decision is hardly a win for hysterical anti-nukes, since the reactor will remain open another nine years. The time lag will give both Exelon and New Jersey officials plenty of time to reconsider. The 600-megawatt plant, originally licensed in 1969, supplies 8 percent of New Jersey’s electricity. The state has three other 1000-MW installations – Hope Creek and Salem I and II – and altogether gets 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear, the 10th highest ranking in the nation.

 After operating efficiently for 36 years, Oyster Creek applied for a 20-year license extension in 2005. Opposition groups filed a petition arguing that corrosion in the plants drywall container posed a safety problem. The Atomic Safety Licensing Board dismissed the claim. Then in 2007, the state Department of Environmental Protection weighed in with an argument that the plant was not safe from airplane attacks. The ASLB also rejected this petition. Nevertheless, the relicensing went right down to the wire, with the renewal issued only a few days before the old one was about to expire. Opposition groups continued to file petitions long afterwards but to no avail. In 2008, Oyster Creek experienced small tritium leaks of the kind suffered by Vermont Yankee. The ASLB said they did not pose a public hazard and the leaks were quickly fixed.

While Oyster Creek passed all the federal tests, however, it finally ran aground last year when the ever-diligent New Jersey DEP came back with an announcement that it would require the plant to build cooling towers in order to avoid raising temperature in Barnegat Bay. DEP said that the warm water from the once-through cooling cycle was adversely affecting fish life. Exelon disputed the claim and said that spending billions to build the towers it would not be economically feasible. If the state persisted, it would close down the plant. Yesterday’s decision appeared to fulfill that promise.

Although the announcement may bring hosannas from the anti-nuclear crowd, there is probably less than meets the eye. The plant will remain open another nine years, long enough to reap a few billion in profits while fending off the state’s environmental demands. Many nuclear engineers may breathe a quiet sigh of relief, since there are inherent risks in running a 50-year-old plant.

Most of all, the loss of 8 percent of its electricity will give New Jersey officials the chance to deliver on their promise to replace Oyster Creek with thousands of 40-story windmills planted along the 125-mile New Jersey coastline. When the state drew up a long-term energy plan in 2006, nuclear expansion was given a big role. Environmental groups quickly beat up on Governor John Corzine, however, and by the time the plan was finalized in 2008 wind had replaced nuclear. New Republican Governor Chris Christie may have different plans but minus 600 MW of electricity the state will have to come up with something. Maybe a new nuclear reactor?


Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Vermont Public Radio, ever with its ear to the ground over Vermont Yankee, has picked up another report that Entergy is trying to sell the plant that the state legislature is trying to close down because of tritium leaks.
“The latest report comes this week from a British business news web site, SGAM. It says Entergy retained the Morgan Stanley financial services firm to help shop Yankee around,” said NPR’s John Dillon in a radio report Monday. “In August, the Energy Daily newsletter cited sources in the nuclear industry who said Entergy had put its Vermont plant up for sale.”
Industry sources suggest that the rumor is probably true. Entergy claims it doesn’t even make money on Vermont Yankee .  But with construction costs long retired, it’s hard to see how Entergy isn’t making money selling 600 MW onto the New England grid, but that’s a bookkeeping puzzle.
In any case, Entergy isn’t issuing any denials. “As any company would, we continuously look at all our operations and evaluate them, looking for ways, potential ways, to create additional value,” Entergy spokesman Michael Burns told NPR.
The real mystery is how the New England grid is ever going to get along without Vermont Yankee. Electrical consumption hit an all-time high last summer and VY’s 600 MW was the equivalent of peak consumption for the whole state of Massachusetts.
Whoever buys Vermont Yankee better have a good public relations department to deal with the misinformation and innuendo from the region’s anti-nuclear legions. But any new owner will also have the whole region over a barrel when it comes to looking for electricity.

Hear more at Vermont Public Radio



Monday, October 4th, 2010

While Vermont officials play Russian roulette with the state’s electricity supply, officials and business leaders in nearby Connecticut have suddenly realized that they will be affected as well.

“The political and regulatory fight in Vermont over the continued operation of the 650-megawatt nuclear power plant in Vernon will have lasting impacts on New England’s electricity pricing and the reliability of the regional power grid,” writes the Hartford Business Journal in an analysis of what the move would mean to the rest of New England. ”As Connecticut is an importer of electricity, these out-of-state battles further cement the state’s notorious reputation for high electricity costs, which rank the second highest in the nation.”

“This system is not in the interest of Connecticut ratepayers,” State Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford told the Business Journal. Fonfara has been sponsoring legislation to try the change the New England grid’s pricing system to benefit his state.

To date the only other reaction to Vermont’s plans came from the New England Independent Systems Operator, which forbid Vermont Yankee from dropping out of an auction to supply power to the region in 2013-2014. The ISO said Vermont Yankee’s power was vital to the reliability of the grid. All of New England is on a single grid with prices set by supply and demand.

Removing Vermont Yankee’s 650 megawatts will have a large impact throughout the region. “Connecticut would have little control over the effects of the Vermont power drain,” writes Brad Kane, of the Business Journal. “The loss of Vermont Yankee would drop the grid beneath the reliability standards established by Congress in the wake of the August 2003 blackouts.”

Vermont Yankee’s 30-year license expires in 2012 and will have to be renewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Because of an arrangement struck when Entergy bought Vermont Yankee in 2002, the Vermont State Legislature has veto power over the relicensing. Last February the state senate voted 26-to-4 to close the reactor due to tritium leaks – but who knows what it will do when the day of reckoning arrives? 

Meanwhile, citizens of Brattleboro will have the opportunity to vote in a non-binding referendum on November 2 to condemn Entergy’s corporate offices in the city – although the company could probably move to another location. The reactor is located in the neighboring town of Vernon, where support for Vermont Yankee is the strongest in the state

Read more at Hartford Business


Monday, June 21st, 2010

As Vermont prepares to see what it’s like living without nuclear
power, the reports continue to come in that renewable substitutes are not prepared to shoulder the load.

Meredith Angwin’s excellent “Yes Vermont Yankee” blog features a guest column today by Guy Page, communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership and author of a recent survey, “Renewable Energy Sources in Vermont: A Status Report, May 2010.”

Page reports that renewable sources now provide only 84 MW of the 600 MW the state requires on an ordinary day (1000 MW at times of peak demand). Vermont Yankee –which the legislature is currently trying to close – provides one-third of the Granite State’s current power while Quebec Hydro – which the legislature has now sanctified as “renewable” – provides another one-third. The remainder comes from conventional sources.

Moreover, 83 percent of current “renewables” comes from two plants in Burlington and Ryegate that are burning wood chips instead of coal. Wind and solar – the conventional “renewable resources” – provide almost nothing. If investors managed to complete four planned wind farms – an ugly blemish on the Green Mountains – and if a proposed feed-in tariff persuades people to decorate their rooftops with solar collectors – then renewables might produce another 95 MW at best. But that still leaves the state about 200 MW short of present production.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders likes to brag that Vermont is “leading the country down the road to a world run on wind and solar energy.” In fact, the Granite State may be travelling down the same trail that California blazoned toward the Great Electrical Shortage of 2000.

Read more at Yes Vermont Yankee


Monday, May 10th, 2010

As Vermont pushes closer to the edge of abandoning nuclear power, reasonable voices are starting to emerge taking account of the consequences.

Gary Silverstein, a personal and global health educator who taught at the University of Vermont for 22 years, has written just such a levelheaded piece for the Burlington Free Press. In a calm, rational manner, he points out what Vermont will be facing if it tries to close Vermont Yankee:

“Complete replacement of the one-third of Vermont’s electricity that comes from VY (about 2.5 billion kilowatt) every year would require about 833 solar farms, each occupying 30-40 acres of open space, one of Vermont’s most precious resources. The cost increase a year for complete replacement of VY’s power by solar farms would be about $600 million dollars.”

“The cost of energy (sold to utilities) associated with the solar farm would be about $900,000 a year. The cost of an equivalent amount of electricity supplied by VY at the new proposed 6.1-cent a kilowatt rate would be $183,000.”

The comments in response to this approach are favorable: 

“More objectively written articles like this one should be written to benefit the correct choice of alternatives available.”

“Thank you for this article. Information like this is essential to making logical, not emotional, decisions about the future of renewable energy.”

Slow but sure wins the race.

Read more at the Burlington Free Press

William Tucker