Well, there is joy in Mudville: Despite years of repeated bad news, including cooling water tower collapses, tritium leaks, steam leaks and other mishaps, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Thursday to end the five-plus-year legal proceeding regarding renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, and will grant the reactor a new, 20-year license.
In a statement, the NRC said its staff expects to issue the renewed license soon; the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.
“This is the final step in the NRC’s detailed technical and legal process of examining whether it’s appropriate to issue a renewed license,” said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. “Since there are other approval processes outside the NRC, we’ll continue to ensure Vermont Yankee is meeting the appropriate public health and safety standards regardless of the reactor’s ultimate status.”
The commission voted unanimously, 4-0, to extend the license.
Commissioner George Apostolakis recused himself because of his prior service on the ACRS (Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards), which recommended renewal of the Vermont Yankee license some time ago, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
The decision to renew the license comes after the NRC staff’s thorough and extensive safety and environmental reviews of the application, submitted Jan. 27, 2006, by the plant’s operator, Entergy Nuclear Operations. The application and the staff reviews were also examined by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an independent body of nuclear safety experts that advises the NRC. The application was also the subject of an adjudicatory hearing by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), a quasi-judicial arm of the NRC that handles licensing matters.
A last-minute appeal by the New England Coalition to halt the issuance of a new license until some of Entergy's filings from the past three months could be reviewed was rejected by the NRC.
Jeffrey Wimette, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents close to 200 employees at Vermont Yankee, was pleased with the ruling.
“As the chief regulator for all American nuclear power plants, the NRC has an excellent record for safety and environmental protection. Its relicensing process has been long and thorough," said Wimette. “The IBEW hopes that today’s announcement will prompt Vermont utilities and Vermont Yankee plant owner Entergy to finalize a power contract for the duration of the 20-year license. We also urge state officials to support the plant’s continued operation. The IBEW stands ready to cooperate in any way to keep the hundreds of Vermont Yankee employees on the job delivering reliable low-cost, low-carbon power to Vermont homes and businesses.”
Vermont's congressional delegation, however, was not as pleased with the ruling. They issued the following joint statement: “It should surprise no one that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to extend Vermont Yankee’s license for another 20 years. The NRC has never denied a nuclear plant an extension, and in fact has granted 62 straight license extensions. We believe that Entergy should respect and abide by Vermont’s laws, which require approval from the Vermont Legislature, and then the Vermont Public Service Board, for the plant to continue to operate beyond 2012.”
Last month, Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard said he was hopeful that the company would have a renewed NRC license and a power deal with Vermont utilities by mid-year. He also said a power deal with Vermont utilities was not necessary to gain complete relicensure, and hinted that the company could take the state to court.
Still holding up Yankee's effort to run beyond March 2012, however, is a state license to operate. The Vermont Senate — led by now Gov. Peter Shumlin — voted last year to thwart the Vermont Public Service Board from completing its review of the renewal application. Senators voted 26-4 against allowing the application to be reviewed, saying it was a bad deal for Vermonters.
In response to the NRC ruling, Shumlin said he still believes VY should be closed in 2012.
“Today’s vote from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not unexpected, and does not change the fact that Vermont Yankee still needs approval from the state to continue operating beyond its 2012 license expiration," said Shumlin in a statement. "I am pleased that the NRC is reaffirming Vermont’s authority to determine the plant’s future. Given the serious radioactive tritium leaks and the recent tritium test results, the source of which has yet to be determined, and other almost weekly problems occurring at this facility, I remain convinced that it is not in the public good for the plant to remain open beyond its scheduled closing in 2012.”