Vermont Governor Jim Douglas vetoed a bill that would have required Vermont Yankee to substantially increase the money it pays into a decommissioning fund which would be used should the plant ever be closed. The increase was on the order of $400 million. Anti-nuclear activists in the state legislature, led by Senate President Peter Shumlin (D-Windham), want the commercial nuclear electric plant shut down when its license expires in 2012.
Under the bill, S.373, additional money and financial guarantees would have to be put in a trust fund for decommissioning before the plant could be included in a corporate restructuring. Supporters of the bill alleged that the proposed restructuring will mean the cost of decommissioning the plant will not be paid by Entergy, the company that now owns the Vernon facility. Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for the anti-nuclear group 'Citizens Action Network' accused Entergy of planning to walk away from its obligations.
This is at face value complete anti-nuclear nonsense since NRC regulations require the decommissioning fund to be supported no matter how the plant operator is structured in terms of finances. A decision from the Public Service Board on whether Entergy can spin off Vermont Yankee into a new company is expected in the fall. The board has the authority to put conditions on the changeover, which it did when Entergy bought the plant in 2002.
In his veto message Gov. Douglas said his action will protect Vermont's low costs for electricity. In a state where the temperature can drop to -40F in winter, low electric rates are a must. The low electric rates from the nuclear power plant are also the reason thousands of jobs are located in Vermont and not elsewhere in New England which largely relies on oil for facility heating.
The veto was hailed by business groups who lobbied against the bill, and who were subjected to verbal abuse about it by Shumlin last month. John O'Kane, with IBM in Essex Junction, said his firm was relieved the bill was shot down. Steve Kimbell, representing Green Mountain Power, told the news media the legislation would have hurt power rate negotiations for new contracts for delivery of electricity after 2012.
"Our financial arrangement with Entergy would be affected by the additional money that would be needed," he said.
Douglas added, "It is important for Vermont families and small businesses. Forcing the company to give financial guarantees that it will fill out the decommissioning fund will not raise rates before 2012 — there are signed contracts between now and then. But it would if the plant was given another operating license."
"It is naïve to think that an extra obligation an operator will incur will not be reflected in that if it goes forward," Douglas said. "We have got a clean, reliable, emission free source of electricity. We should embrace it as long as it is safe and we are satisfied it can be reliable in the future."
Vermont Yankee has applied for a 20-year license extension with the NRC. A decision is expected in November 2008.
Response by NRC to Cooling tower collapse
In other news the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant will not be penalized for allowing a cooling tower to degrade to such an extent that it collapsed, spilling thousands of gallons of water. The NRC instead issued the plant a "noncited violation" for not following nuclear industry recommendations for preventing the problems with fungus attacking wooden beams that led to the collapse last August.
The published photos of water spewing from the collapsed structure were sensational media fodder for the anti-nuclear forces in the state, but in reality the manmade waterfall was not a risk to anyone nor to plant cooling systems.
"We looked at it in terms of nuclear safety, and there was no real significance involved," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Northeast regional office.
Sheehan said Vermont Yankee failed to heed warnings about fungus that can grow on the wooden beams that support cooling towers, which operate in a very wet environment.
"They needed to tap into industry operating experience, the latest available. There was some operational experience they should have been aware of," he said.
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