Update/correction: Contraleslie points out (in her comment below) that this is, in any case, the decision of just the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the NRC, and will not necessarily be adopted by the entire Commission.
I guess I should be stunned by the decision of the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Entergy should be excused from the obligation to provide emergency monitoring at Vermont Yankee.
It is a measure of my lack of faith in the NRC that I am am, at most, confirmed in my cynicism.
That the 2-1 vote was not unanimous is the one ray of hope on the horizon. Per the fire-walled Rutland Herald:
The majority said Vermont had not made a case for why Vermont Yankee should be treated differently from other nuclear power plants that are shut down and are not required to keep the emergency data system in place.
But the dissenting member, Richard Wardwell, said the other two members were misinterpreting the plain language about the issue of exemption, saying the law did apply to Vermont Yankee, operational or not. The exemption, Wardwell wrote in his dissent, applied to plants shut down before the requirement was put in place in 1990.
The state has maintained that enforced monitoring would be essential to community safety for as along as fuel remains in the spent fuel pool.
Entergy has always said it planned to move all of the fuel into dry cask storage “as soon as possible,” but I don’t believe there are any NRC rules mandating by what date the fuel must all be transferred to dry cask storage.
Spent fuel must remain in the pool for about five years, after which it is cool enough to move to into dry storage. The casks are extremely costly themselves; even the cheaper design for which Entergy has opted.
This is in addition to the costs of creating onsite storage pads for the casks, since no permanent repository has been created, and the transfer process itself has attendant risks and costs.
For all these reasons, reactor operators tend to delay the transfer as long as at all possible. This has led to a situation of overcrowding in spent fuel pools all over the country.
Even if we take Entergy at its word (which has historically been unreliable), the spent fuel will remain vulnerable in the pool for five more years.
No where are the fuel assemblies more vulnerable, in fact, than in the spent fuel pools built atop Mark 1 GE BWR reactors, such as the one at VY.
Built high above the reactor itself, if even a small breach in the pool occurs, simple gravity may lower the water level to a dangerous point rather rapidly. If electrical issues in the dormant facility compound the problem, remediation could conceivably fail.
Furthermore, positioned as it is beneath a relatively flimsy canopy of ceiling at the top at the reactor, the pool could be targeted by terrorists using all manner of aircraft, now including civilian drones.
These are, admittedly, unlikely scenarios, but don’t they seem more likely today than fifteen years ago?
What is amazing is that in this post 9/11 America, where we have been forced to surrender so much of our personal freedom for the sake of security, and few of the old rules seem to apply, the NRC can still insist on consistency with its own long standing policies that favor business interests over population safety concerns.
Nonetheless, based on Commissioner Wardwell’s comment, it sounds to me as if the State has pretty solid grounds for appeal, should the NRC agree with its Safety and Licensing Board.
(Please note: as always, this diary represents my own personal views and not necessarily those of Fairewinds Energy Education, where I am employed in a non-technical capacity.)