The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant operator's request for relicensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) faces a new and unusually hostile set of stakeholders in Vermont. They begin with the Vermont State Legislature which is taking matters into its own hands by threatening to veto the relicensing process. Some of its leaders want to close the plant in 2012.
State Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, a Democrat from the district in which the plant is located, told the AP this week he has severe doubts about the objectivity of the NRC and plans to take matter into his own hands.
"The NRC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the nuclear industry," he says. He's not alone. Other state legislators say they share a lack of confidence in the NRC's oversight process.
Vermont lawmakers were alarmed earlier this year by the partial collapse of the cooling tower. It set off a volley of inquiries from the congressional delegation and the governor. It added to anti-nuclear fears already running at a near fever pitch in the state. Activists disrupted a relicensing hearing held in Brattleboro last month.
In a Congressional hearing this week David Lew, NRC's head of reactor projects, said the agency spends an average of 7,000 hours a year in oversight of the reactor site. At 1,800 hours per employee that works out to about four full time engineers.
The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that it is unusual for a state to give itself veto power over a reactor license since this authority is usually reserved under federal law and regulation to the NRC.
Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, visited Vermont this week. Commenting on the Vermont Yankee controversy, he told the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper,While the environmental movement "got a lot of things right in the early years,, its opposition to nuclear power resulted in dirty coal-fired plants. The environmental movement has become the main obstacle to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption because it is opposed to all the viable technologies for electricity production, such as hydropower, nuclear energy and wind."
"Too many of these people have accepted certain beliefs." He called them "career environmentalists (who are) never going to change their minds."
Vermont benefits from the electricity generated by the 650 MW plan with half of its output serving about one-third of total demand in the state. Entergy, who owns and operates Yankee, has requested a 20-year license extension for the plant.