Nuke Advisory Panel Leader to Depart

Published: 5/25/2018 11:58:45 PM
Modified: 5/25/2018 11:59:01 PM

Brattleboro — Big changes may be on the way for Vermont’s citizens’ panel on nuclear issues.

At a meeting Thursday night, longtime Chairwoman Kate O’Connor announced she will step away from the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel when her term expires this summer.

That prompted a larger discussion of the panel’s future. Some say the 19-member body needs more state resources and a redefined mission in order to remain relevant as major changes happen at the state’s only nuclear site.

It may be “a moment for us to step back and think differently about this,” said June Tierney, state Public Service Department commissioner.

The citizens advisory panel began meeting in September 2014, about three months before Entergy stopped power production at Vermont Yankee.

Entergy had announced its intention to shutter the Vernon plant the previous summer, and the state Legislature formed the advisory panel to address decommissioning issues. The panel’s duties include advising state officials and serving “as a conduit for public information and education.”

At one point, the panel struggled with its advisory role. With a diverse membership that includes Entergy representatives as well as longtime Vermont Yankee critics, it is difficult for the panel to come to consensus. So the panel’s most-prominent role has been in fostering public discussion, education and debate.

Meetings regularly include presentations and question-and-answer periods with experts, nuclear industry representatives and governmental agencies. Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff came to Vermont at the panel’s request last year. The U.S. Department of Energy — which is eventually supposed to remove the plant’s spent nuclear fuel — is scheduled to present to the panel next month.

“We started really not knowing what we were doing, and over the last four years we’ve evolved into, I think, a really good group,” O’Connor said. “And we’ve been really fulfilling our No. 1 task, which is to make sure the public knows what’s going on with decommissioning.”

But from a logistical standpoint, O’Connor said the panel is not working well. That’s one reason she will ask the governor not to reappoint her when her term expires at the end of August: O’Connor says she’s simply burnt out.

Since she was appointed chairwoman in January 2015, O’Connor said she has spent thousands of hours handling many aspects of the panel’s business.

As a citizen member of the panel, O’Connor is entitled to a $50 stipend for each meeting. Otherwise, her work is uncompensated.

At Thursday’s meeting, several panel members praised O’Connor’s work over the past three and a half years.

With Vermont Yankee potentially transitioning to a new owner and an accelerated decommissioning project later this year, O’Connor said “it’s a really good time to just step back and say, ‘What should this panel be doing?’ ”

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