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Follow VPR's coverage of Vermont Yankee, from the archive and continuing through the plant's planned closure in 2014.Most Recent Reporting | From The Archive

Engineer Says State Could Face Expensive Clean-up If Vermont Yankee Closes

A deal is being finalized that would resolve financial issues related to the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee  nuclear plant.
Jason R. Henske
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon. The plant's 40-year operating license

A nuclear engineer is warning the Legislature that Vermont Yankee could close before its federal license expires and leave the state with a huge clean-up bill.

But that testimony was disputed by another nuclear expert who said the federal government would step in to help the state.

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee is considering a bill to require Vermont Yankee to reserve $40 million to restore the Vernon site to its pre-industrial condition.

Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and Yankee critic, told the panel that six out of 104 nuclear plants around the country are closing because they’re no longer economic or they need expensive repairs.

Yankee could be next, Gundersen said.

“If the plant doesn’t make economic sense tomorrow, they’re gone,” he said. “So for us as a state to expect that Vermont Yankee is going to run for 20 more years is fiscally irresponsible.”

Gundersen said Entergy Corporation, Yankee’s owner, is looking at major expenses in the future. These include a $200 million bill to replace its condenser and potentially another $40 million in modifications that could be required as a result of the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.

Entergy when it bought the plant promised to restore the site to a – “greenfield,” meaning removing all the above and below ground structures.

Yankee’s fund to decommission the plant now totals about $540 million. Gundersen said that may not be sufficient.

“Because at the end of the day when the fund is depleted there may not be funds to get to greenfield,” he said.

Committee Chairman Tony Klein said the greenfield bill is unlikely to advance before the scheduled adjournment in early May, according to Committee Chairman Tony Klein. But he said the committee wanted to start work this year, the first half of the legislative biennium.

“You know, we had an agreement with Entergy that they agreed to do above and beyond. And there’s a real concern that is just not going to happen,” he said.

A pro-Yankee nuclear engineer said lawmakers should not be overly worried that the state will be left footing the bill if Entergy closes the plant.

Howard Shaffer is from Enfield, N.H. and worked for years in the nuclear industry. He said the federal government would not allow Entergy to walk away.

“The issue of will there be enough money is a serious one, but I also think it will be found that the federal government laws override state laws that allow somebody to go bankrupt and run away from their responsibility,” he said. “That’s Congress’ intent. And they’re going to find the original owners and make them pay.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently required Entergy to obtain a line of credit to bolster its decommissioning trust fund.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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