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Nearly A Year After Shutdown, Vermont Yankee Continues To Spark Debate

Entergy has a $660 million budget to fully demolish and decommission the former Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. The State of Vermont claims that Entergy is not providing enough information on how these funds are being spent.

Almost a year after its shutdown, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is still sparking debate over safety, spending and the disposal of nuclear waste.

Vermont Edition spoke to Susan Smallheer, a reporter with the Rutland Herald, about what's been happening since the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant shut down last December, as well as the back and forth betweenEntergy Corporation and the state of Vermont as mediated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On what's currently happening at the plant

Entergy is putting a majority of buildings in what is called "safe and dark" mode, and demolishing minor buildings. Ultimately, they are preparing to transfer fuel from the spent pool into a facility that will begin construction in 2016.

"That will hold the spent nuclear from Vermont Yankee until the year 2052, when Entergy is expecting the Department of Energy to take away the fuel," says Smallheer.

Uncertainties arise when discussing where this spent fuel will be held next. Vermont and Vermont Yankee have a contract with a Texas facility, owned privately byWaste Control Specialists, which holds a federal permit until 2045.

According to filings that Entergy has made with the NRC, Vermont Yankee does not expect to begin deconstruction until 2068.

"Vermont Yankee has to be demolished, decommissioned and decontaminated before the waste can be shipped to Texas," says Smallheer.

On how decommissioning funds are being spent

A point of contention for the state and Entergy is how Entergy Vermont Yankee is spending money from the  decommissioning  trust fund, which had reached approximately $660 million as of the shutdown.

"Now it's down to about $600 million," says Smallheer. "Yankee has made quite a few withdrawals with this so-called 30-day notification to the NRC, which is how the state of Vermont learns about it."

The state claims that Entergy is not providing enough information on how these funds are being spent.

"Vermont has a very vested interest in not only getting the plant decommissioned as quickly as possible, because Entergy said they'll start decommissioning as long as there's adequate funds in the decommissioning trust fund, but because whatever's leftover goes back to Vermont ratepayers who started the fund," says Smallheer.

"[The state] needs to know how [Entergy] is spending it, and if they can say it's being spent wisely," says Smallheer.

Correction 9:57 a.m. Oct. 13, 2015 An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund was established in March of this year.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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