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VY Panel Backs Up More Local Say In NRC Rulemaking

AP Photo/Entergy
A state panel wants local communities to have more say in the NRC rulemaking process for decommissioning nuclear power plants.

An advisory panel that was set up to gather and share information on the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant wants communities to have a say in how federal regulators write a new set of decommissioning rules.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not established rules for decommissioning nuclear power plants.

The way it works now plants such as Vermont Yankee have to ask the NRC for exemptions to the licenses they now have as they go through the decommissioning process.

The NRC has acknowledged that new rules are needed, especially as more of the nation's older nuclear power plants shut down.

The Vermont Legislature established the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel to collect information on the decommissioning process and make recommendations to the state.

At a meeting Thursday, the panel held its first advisory vote and decided to advocate for more local input into how the NRC comes up with its new decommissioning rules.

"Most of the conversations that go on between the NRC and anything dealing with rulemaking, or anything about decommissioning, is with the nuclear industry," said panel Chairwoman Kate O'Connor. "But what's missing is the public and the host community part of this."

The panel wants to work with a national organization, like the National Association of Development Organizations, to bring together communities that are affected by the financial, environmental, and employment impacts of a decommissioned nuclear power plant.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
The Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel met Thursday in Vernon, where they decided to advocate for more local input on new NRC decommissioning rules going forward.

The group could also form a task force to give local governments a voice during the NRC rulemaking process. 

"What we are doing does not only affect this community, but every community that is dealing with a decommissioning plant," said Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission and a member of the state panel. "There should be a robust discussion about what the decommissioning policy should look like."

Campany says it is hard for local communities and state agencies to follow and become engaged in the complicated license amendment and exemption procedures.

The nuclear industry, through the Nuclear Energy Institute, gets to engage with the NRC during the rule making process, and Campany says communities that are dealing with the consequences of a decommissioning plant should also have a say in setting policy.

"This is not about grinding an ax with the NRC," he says. "This is about having a rational conversation and setting a rational policy."

At the meeting the panel voted 15-2 to support the proposed policy.

All of the Entergy representatives supported the idea.

Only Stephen Skibniowsky, from Vernon, and Diane Becker, from New Hampshire Emergency Management and Homeland Security voted against the proposal.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel was set up with clear expectations, but the procedures and decision making processes were not spelled out in legislation.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is starting a process to talk about how plants are decommissioned. So if we can have a voice now, we can help someone else who is going through this in the future." - Kate O'Connor, Chairwoman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel

The panel spent some time at its last hearing talking about where funding would come from and what agency would lead the effort.

The panel left those challenges for another meeting.

O'Connor says the panel's first vote will be shared with state and federal lawmakers, as well as with the towns in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts within the 10-mile emergency planning zone.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is starting a process to talk about how plants are decommissioned," O'Connor said. "So if we can have a voice now, we can help someone else who is going through this in the future."

The NRC says it is going to open up public comments on the rulemaking process this month, and publish a draft decision on which topics to include in the rules next year.

The NRC hopes to have the rules ready for final approval in 2019.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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