Our Work

Close Vermont Yankee As Scheduled: There’s a Better Way Forward

January 2010

The operating license of Vermont’s aging and decrepit nuclear power plant is scheduled to terminate in 2012. Vermont Yankee’s (VYs) out-of-state corporate owners, Louisiana-based Entergy, are seeking a 20-year extension to operate the imperiled facility.

Vermonters have a huge stake — and, thankfully, a voice — in what will likely be one of the most significant decisions regarding public safety and our energy future that the state will ever face.

That’s because Vermont is the only state in the nation in which the Legislature has authority over deciding a nuclear power plant’s future. In the coming months, lawmakers are likely to consider this important question.

There are several issues that are vital to consider in this critical decision, including:

Safety and reliability. In the past several years, there have been dozens of confidence-shattering mishaps and mistakes at the aging nuclear power plant. One of the more recent issues – and most troubling – are indications that the plant has been leaking dangerous radioactive nucleides into nearby groundwater and surface water. This finding in particular fails to inspire confidence that VY officials can operate the plant safely in a manner that protects public health. Compounding this concern is the recent revelation that VY officials misled state regulators and lawmakers when they testified under oath that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant does not send radioactive water through underground pipes.

The future purchase price for the power. In late 2009, Vermont Yankee officials offered a proposed price for the power it will provide to Vermonters. Their proposal was nearly double the current price Vermonters pay for VY’s power. Further, the proposal VY officials put on the table was for far less power than Vermont receives today. This proposal is a bad deal: Vermonters will pay far more money for far less power. (Note: Vermont consumes about 1,000 megawatts of power. The late 2009 proposal is to provide Vermont approximately 11 percent of the state’s current demand  – only 115MW of power.)

The decommissioning fund. Vermont Yankee officials are responsible for dismantling the nuclear reactor after it closes. Currently, the ‘decommissioning fund,’ which VY officials would tap is far short of the amount – nearly $600 million — to close the plant safely and sufficiently. VNRC believes that Entergy’s failure to fully fund the decommissioning fund could leave Vermonters shouldering the burden of cleaning up the plant — and returning it to a nontoxic greenspace — when the plant closes.

The spin off. Entergy Louisiana, VY’s current and well-funded owner, is attempting to spin off Vermont’s nuclear power plant — as well as five other nuclear plants — to a highly leveraged, debt-ridden company called Enexus. Unfortunately, the Douglas administration has publicly endorsed the spin-off. VNRC believes that trading a well-capitalized company like Entergy for a debt-ridden, below investment grade, corporation is bad public policy and could leave Vermonters vulnerable — and financially responsible — if Enexus falters.

The radioactive waste. Currently VY stores high-level nuclear waste on the floodplain of the Connecticut River. The federal government’s promise to remove the waste has not been kept. Currently, and frighteningly, there is no long- term nuclear storage solution on the horizon. That means dangerous radioactive waste could remain on the Connecticut River’s banks for the next 100 years. This reality poses a serious and unnecessary public health and financial risk to both surrounding communities and Vermonters as a whole. VNRC believes the health of Vermonters and the integrity of our economy are far too important to place in this precarious position.

Vermont’s real energy future. Vermont stands at an energy crossroads. Will the state choose a debilitated, dangerous nuclear plant to power a small portion of our energy needs, or will we choose to remove the state’s largest obstacle to paving a path to a more aggressive energy-efficient and renewable energy economy? As it stands today, VY would provide Vermonters with approximately 11% of our energy needs in the future – approximately 115 megawatts – under VY officials power purchase proposal. Late last year the Department of Public Service put out a request for 50 megawatts of renewable energy projects in Vermont. After one day, the DPS had received proposals representing over 200 MW of community-scale power. Clearly, Vermonters have the interest and capacity to transition toward renewable power. Combine that with achieving far more efficiency in our buildings and services, replacing VY’s power would be far from a stretch. In fact, relicensing the aging plant would hobble us from moving forward, faster, towards a clean, safe, renewable energy future.

Conclusion:

While it’s still uncertain whether lawmakers will vote on this issue this year, VNRC believes it is in the best interest of Vermonters – and the state’s economy – to deny Vermont Yankee’s request to continue to operate beyond its scheduled 2012 closure. The drawbacks of the ongoing operation of the plant far outweigh the benefits of keeping it running into the coming decades.

LET YOUR LAWMAKERS KNOW WHERE YOU STAND ON THIS ISSUE. Contact them today and ask them to deny VY’s request to operate beyond its 2012 scheduled closure date.

LET OTHER VERMONTERS KNOW ABOUT THIS IMPORTANT AND TIMELY ISSUE. Pen a letter to the editor. Highlight some of the issues that worry you the most or note your interest in paving a new clean energy path for Vermont. Find much more information here.