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No Quick Fix In Shutdown Of Vt. Yankee

Returning Nuclear Plant Site To Safety Could Take 15 Years

  • Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt., to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014.  The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)

    Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt., to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)

  • Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl, right, and Jeff Forbes, executive vice president of nuclear operations and chief nuclear officer, Entergy Nuclear, speak at a news conference to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)

    Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl, right, and Jeff Forbes, executive vice president of nuclear operations and chief nuclear officer, Entergy Nuclear, speak at a news conference to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)

  • Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl, right, and Jeff Forbes, executive vice president of nuclear operations and chief nuclear officer, Entergy Nuclear, speak at a news conference to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)

    Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl, right, and Jeff Forbes, executive vice president of nuclear operations and chief nuclear officer, Entergy Nuclear, speak at a news conference to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)

  • In this June 19, 2013 photo, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. Entergy Corp., announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, it will shut down the nuclear power plant by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    In this June 19, 2013 photo, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. Entergy Corp., announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, it will shut down the nuclear power plant by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • In this June 19, 2013 photo, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. Entergy Corp., announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, it will shut down the nuclear power plant by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    In this June 19, 2013 photo, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. Entergy Corp., announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, it will shut down the nuclear power plant by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, May 16, 2012, file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, center, is followed by members of the media as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters, in Providence, R.I.  Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, that the Economic Development Corp., can proceed with its lawsuit against Schilling, other former 38 Studios executives, and former EDC officials including former Executive Director Keith Stokes. The suit alleges fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, racketeering and conspiracy. It says the board was misled into approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the company in 2010.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

    FILE - In this Wednesday, May 16, 2012, file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, center, is followed by members of the media as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters, in Providence, R.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, that the Economic Development Corp., can proceed with its lawsuit against Schilling, other former 38 Studios executives, and former EDC officials including former Executive Director Keith Stokes. The suit alleges fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, racketeering and conspiracy. It says the board was misled into approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the company in 2010. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, May 16, 2012, file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, center, is followed by members of the media as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters, in Providence, R.I.  Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, that the Economic Development Corp., can proceed with its lawsuit against Schilling, other former 38 Studios executives, and former EDC officials including former Executive Director Keith Stokes. The suit alleges fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, racketeering and conspiracy. It says the board was misled into approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the company in 2010.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

    FILE - In this Wednesday, May 16, 2012, file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, center, is followed by members of the media as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters, in Providence, R.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, that the Economic Development Corp., can proceed with its lawsuit against Schilling, other former 38 Studios executives, and former EDC officials including former Executive Director Keith Stokes. The suit alleges fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, racketeering and conspiracy. It says the board was misled into approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the company in 2010. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

  • FILE - In this Dec.1985 file photo, workers perform maintenance on the reactor vessel at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.  Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

    FILE - In this Dec.1985 file photo, workers perform maintenance on the reactor vessel at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

  • FILE - In this June 14, 1986 file photo, protestors stand at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

    FILE - In this June 14, 1986 file photo, protestors stand at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

  • FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2010 file photo, anti-nuclear citizens celebrate the vote on Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, file)

    FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2010 file photo, anti-nuclear citizens celebrate the vote on Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, file)

  • FILE - This undated photo provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows damage to the cooling tower at the Vermont Yankee power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

    FILE - This undated photo provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows damage to the cooling tower at the Vermont Yankee power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 1997 file photo, a sign warns of radioactive material at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.   Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

    FILE - In this Dec. 1997 file photo, a sign warns of radioactive material at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

  • Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt., to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014.  The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)
  • Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl, right, and Jeff Forbes, executive vice president of nuclear operations and chief nuclear officer, Entergy Nuclear, speak at a news conference to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)
  • Entergy Wholesale Commodities president Bill Mohl, right, and Jeff Forbes, executive vice president of nuclear operations and chief nuclear officer, Entergy Nuclear, speak at a news conference to announce the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station by end of 2014, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Brattleboro, Vt. The company will shut down the power plant in Vernon, Vt., by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh)
  • In this June 19, 2013 photo, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. Entergy Corp., announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, it will shut down the nuclear power plant by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
  • In this June 19, 2013 photo, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. Entergy Corp., announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, it will shut down the nuclear power plant by end of 2014, ending a long legal battle with the state. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
  • FILE - In this Wednesday, May 16, 2012, file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, center, is followed by members of the media as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters, in Providence, R.I.  Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, that the Economic Development Corp., can proceed with its lawsuit against Schilling, other former 38 Studios executives, and former EDC officials including former Executive Director Keith Stokes. The suit alleges fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, racketeering and conspiracy. It says the board was misled into approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the company in 2010.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
  • FILE - In this Wednesday, May 16, 2012, file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, center, is followed by members of the media as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters, in Providence, R.I.  Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, that the Economic Development Corp., can proceed with its lawsuit against Schilling, other former 38 Studios executives, and former EDC officials including former Executive Director Keith Stokes. The suit alleges fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, racketeering and conspiracy. It says the board was misled into approving a $75 million loan guarantee for the company in 2010.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
  • FILE - In this Dec.1985 file photo, workers perform maintenance on the reactor vessel at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.  Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
  • FILE - In this June 14, 1986 file photo, protestors stand at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
  • FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2010 file photo, anti-nuclear citizens celebrate the vote on Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, file)
  • FILE - This undated photo provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows damage to the cooling tower at the Vermont Yankee power plant in Vernon, Vt. Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
  • FILE - In this Dec. 1997 file photo, a sign warns of radioactive material at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.   Vermont's only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, ending a nasty legal battle over the future of the 4-decade-old plant, Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and will begin being decommissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company said. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Tafstvville — Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday that it is the responsibility of Vermont Yankee’s owner to return the nuclear power plant to a “greenfield” after the facility is decommissioned next year, but acknowledged it could be as long as 15 years before the site can be safe to reoccupy and questioned whether the parent company had enough money in its decommissioning fund to see the project through.

Shumlin, speaking during an interview in Taftsville Wednesday while he toured areas hardest hit by Tropical Storm Irene on the storm’s second anniversary, said that Entergy Corp., the nuclear power plant’s Lousianna-based owner, has about $580 million in the decommissioning fund. He said that “many people,” however, feel that is inadequate for the task but “Entergy’s going to enter into a process now to figure out exactly what that number is.”

The governor affirmed his position that Entergy should not be allowed to decommission the plant under the so-called Safstor method, which can take 60 years.

“There’s no way leaving the carcass of the plant next to the Connecticut River is acceptable to Vermont, and the notion that we would leave it for there for 60 years is outrageous,” he said.

Faster decommissioning options exist under Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations, although the NRC has not yet ruled on which method Entergy may employ.

But apart from stating that Vermont wants more “green power,” Shumlin declined to speculate about what uses the Yankee Power site in Vernon, Vt., would be eventually be put to.

“The timing really matters here,” Shumlin said. “ ... Under the best scenario, it’s going to be 14, 15 years until anything’s going to be built there, and I wouldn’t presume to tell you today what the energy generation’s going to look like 15 years from now.”

Even after the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is officially decommissioned, it will take decades to clear the site of nuclear material, largely because there’s no place in the country to put the high-level spent fuel.

Entergy Corp. announced on Tuesday it would shutter the 41-year-old plant at the end of 2014 then put it in “safe-store,” an industry term that means the plant will be mothballed, possibly for decades.

The thinking goes like this: Over the years, radioactivity decreases, meaning there is less exposure to workers and less risky material to transport and ultimately bury at an approved waste site. But that’s the low-level material: hardware, contaminated concrete and other building materials that will end up in a specialized Texas burial site.

A long-debated federal proposal to entomb the high-level waste at a Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada has gone nowhere, leaving no place to safely dispose of the guts of nuclear power: Spent uranium fuel and its byproducts. So, massive dry casks will hold the fuel on site, secured by guards, for up to 60 years.

In an emailed response to questions Wednesday, Entergy said there are 13 air-cooled storage casks currently on site, containing just under 900 spent fuel assemblies. But there are 3,000 spent fuel assemblies currently being held in a water-filled pool that would have to be packed away. The final number that would have to be stored on site depends on when the Department of Energy begins taking spent fuel.

Other plants that have closed over the years in New England are still dotted with the casks: Maine Yankee (formally decommissioned in 2005) has 60 dry casks; Connecticut Yankee (decommissioning completed in 1997) has 43 casks; and Yankee Rowe (2007) has 16 casks.

Howard Shaffer, an engineer and consultant who supports nuclear energy, said history shows plants can be decommissioned safely and that companies must strike a balance between caution and efficiency when dismantling a plant.

“Decommissioning is a careful and slow process,” said Shafer, who lives in New Hampshire. “It’s like tearing down a house, piece by piece.”

“But you don’t want to dawdle, because then you run the costs up,” he said.

Many state officials want the nuclear material off-site as soon as possible, but even removing low-level radioactive material must wait at least five years, according to Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer for Fairewind Gundersen, a nuclear consulting firm in Vermont.

“When a reactor shuts down, it remains physically hot for five years and it has to stay underwater to stay cool,” Gundersen said.

Raymond Shadis, technical adviser to the New England Coalition that fought to close Vermont Yankee, was part of the process to decommission Maine Yankee, an undertaking that took seven years.

“What we found was prompt decommissioning was not only the cheapest way to go, but also in terms of getting a site that was well-cleaned up, it was the most effective way,” he said.

Shadis said moving quickly means not having to maintain the plant’s buildings while work is done. Access to local employees familiar with the plant also adds expertise and efficiency to a prompt closure, he said.

Vermont Yankee was commissioned in 1971 on the bank of the Connecticut River in Vernon in the state’s southeast corner. After Entergy bought the plant in 2002 from a group of New England utilities, state officials made it clear they wanted the plant shut after its license expired and the issue landed in court.

The company said a poor energy market and increased competition from natural gas drove the decision to close the plant.

Valley News staff writer Maggie Cassidy contributed to this report.