Entergy's board of directors has essentially made a $50 million* bet that Vermont Yankee will remain open beyond March 2012, voting to refuel the plant in October.
The board made the announcement to Vermont Yankee employees and the media in a brief statement earlier today.
The $35 million $50 million* (see correction below) cost of a refueling covers the cost of replacing 120 fuel assemblies as well as other, scheduled capital upgrades and equipment replacements, said Larry Smith, a VY spokesman.
The October refueling will allow the nuke plant to keep running until at least March 2013. Refuelings occur every 18 months.
VY received a 20-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this year, but the state of Vermont has refused to grant a certificate of public good to continue operating beyond March 21, 2012.
That issue is currently being litigated before the U.S. District Court for the state of Vermont. Last week, Judge J. Garvan Murtha denied Entergy's request for a preliminary injunction, but did signal that he had some serious questions about the state's reasoning behind a Senate vote in 2010.
Entergy had argued that uncertainty about whether it could remain open in 2012 put its refueling at risk, and asked Murtha to grant the injunction as a way to ensure it could refuel and undertake required maintenance and surveillance. Otherwise, it could be forced to shut down rather than spend money on the refueling.
Murtha rejected that notion, essentially saying Entergy's decision to to refuel had to be a calculated business risk. If Entergy prevails, the risk will turn into a reward.
"Refueling, however, is not a harm if Entergy prevails on its claims and is able to operate for the useful life of the fuel. Entergy’s choice not to refuel and shut down before a decision on the merits would be irreparable harm if Entergy is ultimately successful in its litigation, but Entergy, while it has raised the possibility, has not persuaded the court that a decision to shut down is likely and imminent," Murtha noted in his ruling last week. "Finally, any risk in significantly delaying the October outage is a preventable harm within Plaintiffs’ control, and it is not clear that such generalized harm is either likely or imminent."
In a statement, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Entergy's decision reaffirmed Murtha's ruling.
“Judge Murtha made clear in his decision to deny Entergy Louisiana's request for a preliminary injunction that he didn’t buy the company's argument that the injunction was a prerequisite for refueling," said Shumlin. "Today's decision by Entergy Louisiana to refuel affirms that Judge Murtha was right, and that his decision to deny the injunction was the correct one.”
A top Entergy official said the company decided to refuel after a close reading of Murtha's ruling and a reexamination of its own legal case.
“Entergy’s board of directors carefully reviewed the merits of our case and the arguments put forth by all parties during the recent hearing in District Court when we requested a preliminary injunction against the state of Vermont taking any actions to close Vermont Yankee,” said J. Wayne Leonard, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Our board believes both the merits of the company’s legal position and the record strongly support its decision to continue to trial scheduled to begin on Sep. 12. On that basis, the decision was made to move forward with the refueling as planned.”
During a typical refueling outage, approximately 120 fuel assemblies, or one-third of the reactor core, are replaced with new fuel assemblies, Entergy noted in a press release. Additionally, workers use the outage to perform NRC-required inspections, testing and other work that cannot be performed while the reactor is operating. All told, approximately 5000 tasks are typically performed during the approximately 30-day period.
An additional workforce of 800 to 1000 skilled laborers is assembled to perform these tasks. These workers come from other Entergy nuclear facilities, craft labor unions and outside contractors.
* This post has been corrected to reflect the true cost of the fuel purchase, which is $50 million. The total cost to be incurred by Entergy during the refueling outage will be roughly $90 million.