Vermont Yankee plant to close next year
Vermont Yankee plant to close next year
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Citing financial factors including lower natural gas prices, Entergy announced plans Tuesday to close and begin a decades-long process to decommission the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, which is located a few miles north of the western Massachusetts border between the two states.
The Vernon, VT, plant began commercial operation in 1972 and the Louisiana-based Entergy acquired it from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation in 2002. Federal regulators only two years ago had renewed the plant’s license for an additional 20 years, until 2032. Vermont Yankee is a boiling water reactor manufactured by General Electric and uses the Connecticut River as a cooling source. It has about 630 employees.
“This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us,” Entergy chairman and CEO Leo Denault said in a statement. “Vermont Yankee has an immensely talented, dedicated and loyal workforce, and a solid base of support among many in the community. We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule was not the outcome they had hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.”
The company, which also runs a nuclear plant in Plymouth and two nuclear plants in New York, cited three factors behind its decision: impacts of shale gas that have resulted in sustained low natural gas and wholesale energy prices, a high cost structure for the Yankee plant that has received $400 million in investments since 2002, and wholesale market “design flaws that continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices in the region, and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.”
Entergy operates several other nuclear power plants in the region, including the Indian Point and James A. FitzPatrick plants in New York, the Palisades Power Plant in Michigan, and in Massachusetts the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth. Entergy officials said Pilgrim’s market environment is the same as Vermont Yankee’s but added that Pilgrim’s “higher power output provides greater economies of scale.”
“I think it’s clear that the same economic factors that advised Entergy to close Vermont are at work here,” said Duxbury resident Mary Lampert, who rallies against the Pilgrim plant with the group Pilgrim Watch. She said, “They’re in business to make money and they’re not making money, so I think that puts us in a precarious position, unfortunately right now, but all things have their time.”
Pilgrim was re-licensed by the NRC last year over the objections of Lampert, who said the regulatory body “has been unwilling to do its job.”
Entergy expressed a commitment to the continued operation of Indian Point, calling it “a vital component of the region’s power supply and we are committed to its continued and safe operation. Entergy described FitzPatrick as “in a difficult market environment” but indicated it expects to refuel there in the fall of 2014. “While Palisades’ market environment is certainly difficult, it has a power purchase agreement,” the company said.
Sen. Ed Markey cheered the closure, which he said is part of a trend, as it marks the fifth reactor closure this year.
Since 1960, more than 70 nuclear reactors have been retired throughout the country, according to Entergy.
Entergy plans to set up a decommissioning planning organization and, once the plant is shut down, workers will de-fuel the reactor and place the plant into SAFSTOR, which according to Entergy is “a process whereby a nuclear facility is placed and maintained in a condition that allows it to be safely secured, monitored, and stored.”
Denault said, “We are committed to the safe and reliable operation of Vermont Yankee until shutdown, followed by a safe, orderly, and environmentally responsible decommissioning process.”
According to Entergy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will oversee the decommissioning process, which involves transferring used fuel to safe storage, removing any residual radioactivity, and restoring the site, including the removal of structures and, if appropriate, re-grading and reseeding the land.
Used fuel will remain secured on site, under guard, and monitored during shutdown and decommissioning activities, according to Entergy. Removal of the fuel from the reactor vessel to the spent fuel pool is expected to begin as soon as the reactor has cooled sufficiently, in a matter of days after shutdown. From the spent fuel pool, fuel will be moved to NRC-licensed casks. The fuel will remain onsite in dry casks until it is removed by the federal government in accordance with its legal obligations, according to Entergy.
Sandra Levine, a senior attorney in the Conservation Law Foundation’s Vermont office, welcomed the announcement. “The end of Vermont Yankee is the beginning of a new chapter in Vermont’s energy future,” Levine said in a statement. “The state has been saddled with this poorly managed, uneconomic dinosaur for far too long, enduring environmental damage and the persistent threats to public health and safety that come with operating a nuclear power plant well beyond its planned life. Vermonters, who have fought vigorously for more than a decade to shut the plant down, will not be sorry to see the back of Vermont Yankee.”
Pledging to “treat employees at the station fairly and assist them through this transition,” Entergy estimates up to $60 million in severance and employee retention costs through the end of 2014.The company suggested in materials announcing the closure plans that it considered selling the plant to another company. “We are constantly evaluating our portfolio of assets and businesses to determine if it makes sense to hold and optimize, to sell, or to shut down. As a matter of policy, we cannot comment on any specific efforts; however, we did consider all options before making this decision,” Entergy officials wrote.
The company pegged at $566 million the amount required to meet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s minimum for decommissioning financial assurance for license termination. Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning trust had a balance of $582 million as of July 31, 2013.