VERNON — Critics and supporters of the sale of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to a New York City industrial demolition company said they were in favor of the new owner’s decommissioning timetable during a Vermont Public Service Board hearing Thursday night.
While no one spoke out against the NorthStar plan, many cautioned that it seems too good to be true.
Deborah Katz, executive director of Citizens Awareness Network, a regional anti-nuclear group, and Robert Spenser, chairman of the Vernon Economic Development and Planning Committee, said the NorthStar plan appeared great.
“It’s almost too good to be true,” said Spenser, who spoke in support of the sale.
“NorthStar sounds really good. It sounds so good,” said Katz.
But it was so good, they both said, that it warrants close analysis by the Public Service Board, which along with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has to approve the sale.
Under NorthStar’s plan, the cleanup and decontamination of Vermont Yankee would occur decades earlier than under the current plan by Entergy Nuclear.
Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, who is a member of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, brought up the other major concern voiced during the two-hour hearing: How is Vermont going to be protected financially if something goes wrong, and does NorthStar have the financial wherewithal?
“Who would be left holding the bag?” MacDonald said.
Katz said that in two other New England decommissioning projects there were significant overruns and ratepayers ended up financing the additional costs. Entergy operated Vermont Yankee as a merchant plant, selling its power on the open market, and thus there are no ratepayers to turn to, Katz said.
Under the NorthStar plan, the company would buy Vermont Yankee for $1,000 from Entergy Nuclear, (including Yankee’s $560 million decommissioning trust fund), and in return, the Vernon reactor would be demolished, radioactive waste would be shipped to Texas and the site on the banks of the Connecticut River would be returned to the long promised “green field” status.
NorthStar has lined up an additional $125 million in financing if decommissioning and cleanup prove more expensive than estimates.
Several people mentioned the serious financial problems of one of North- Star’s partners in the Yankee project: Areva, a French nuclear company that has run into financial crisis because of the construction of a Finnish nuclear plant, according to Scott State, president and CEO of NorthStar.
He said NorthStar’s partner was an American subsidiary and it didn’t share the financial problems of its French parent.
For an hour prior to the Public Service Board hearing, State and Michael Twomey, an Entergy Nuclear vice president, answered questions from the public about the sale. About 120 people attended that session and the hearing, the first of two on the sale.
State said new estimates by NorthStar have cut the cost of decommissioning from $1.24 billion, a figure set by Entergy, to $811 million.
The $600 million difference, according to Twomey, includes the cost of moving Yankee’s spent nuclear fuel, a job that NorthStar is not tackling and Entergy is, as well as a 10 to 15 percent contingency fund.
“ We have enough to decommission the plant and do all the work,” said State, whose firm has never decommissioned a commercial nuclear reactor; its experience is with university research reactors.
Its partner, Areva, has experience with large reactors, he said.
Acting Chairwoman Margaret Cheney said that a second Public Service Board hearing on the sale would likely be held in September, after more details are disclosed about the sale.