Your July 25 editorial, “Yankee’s future,” gets it right: NorthStar’s Vermont Yankee decommissioning plan merits rigorous state and federal review of the applicant’s plan, financing and technical expertise. Depositions, motions, responses and judgments on these subjects are flying thick and fast in Vermont Public Utility Commission Docket 8880. It’s no wonder the PUC has pushed back the next public hearing from this fall to January 2018.
The PUC’s due diligence should not be seen as a red flag. The NorthStar plan is sound, despite New England Coalition disparagement in the press about what it calls NorthStar’s “untested method of managing decommissioning under new and unanalyzed circumstances.” There is nothing technologically new or experimental about this plan. The applied science is all established and in regular use and has been proven both safe and economically successful.
The only novel aspects of the plan — all related to budgeting and organization — are being scrutinized by the PUC and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Both review processes will last well into 2018. Financial protections include performance bonds, $125 million in insurance, and contingency budgeting, there is $73 million surplus-overbudget in the decommissioning trust fund. The June purchase of North- Star by equity leader J.F. Lehman will provide additional capitalization, if needed.
Much has been made of North- Star’s hesitance to release documents containing proprietary trade secrets. Yet NorthStar has disclosed thousands of pages of detailed financial planning — anyone can read them on ePSB. Even the small number of publicly withheld documents may be reviewed by all official parties in the PUC docket.
Your editorial suggests the NRC should validate the state of Vermont’s wish for more hearings. Yet the NRC has already participated in a well-attended NorthStar hearing in Brattleboro on May 25. Vermonters may submit comments and opinions to the NRC, docket number 05000271. Federal license transfers are more about quasi-judicial filings than public hearings. It’s hard to understand how another public hearing would shed more light and why state officials are complaining about the process.
What’s really happening here is that NorthStar has built a better mousetrap. It has improved the industry standard for prompt, safe nuclear decommissioning. No wonder it resists sharing details with its competition. And if a better mousetrap brightens the future of nuclear power, no wonder anti- nuclear groups like NEC are concerned. Regulators must decide at what point prudent caution becomes unnecessary delay. Such delay could be harmful, to both the environment and the economy. Saying no to North- Star means lost economic opportunity and delaying decommissioning by more than 50 years. It means that whatever harmful substances (apart from spent fuel in dry cask storage) are onsite won’t be promptly removed, but will remain for at least a half-century. And it means Vermont will lose the immediate economic impact of decommissioning and the likely redevelopment of the valuable Vermont Yankee site. In short, no NorthStar means less environmental and economic benefit.
NorthStar views this job as a showpiece for future nuclear decommissioning work. It has not come to Vermont to fail.
In June, I attended a press conference in Montpelier at which Gov. Phil Scott was asked about the NorthStar plan. The governor replied, “We need to make sure they have the financial resources, but in the end, if we can make it work, it will be beneficial for all Vermont.”
Indeed. Let’s let this process work.
Guy Page is communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (www.vtep.org).