Note: Comments from the public on decommissioning issues are being accepted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission only until March 23. You can use this handy link to submit your own.
It’s Friday the13th and less than a month away from the fourth anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, which continues to flow radioactive water into the Pacific
What better day for Vermont to revisit their own nuclear powder keg, Vermont Yankee.
On Monday,the Vermont Department of Health revealed that last August, Strontium-90 had been detected in test wells on the property of the now inactive nuclear plant.
Assuming a very conservative position on the release, the Vermont Dept. of Health offered the following observation:
Until now, the only radionuclide measured in any of the groundwater monitoring wells at Vermont Yankee was tritium (hydrogen-3). Sr-90 was detected in soil collected near the source of the tritium leak in 2010. Sr-90 has also been detected in fish in the Connecticut River as well as in fish in other Vermont waters not connected to Vermont Yankee, but those detections are consistent with worldwide background levels.
So-called “background” radiation sounds benign enough, until you consider this (also from the Health Dept.):
Sr-90 is a product of nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, and does not occur naturally in the environment….It has a half-life of 29 years, which means this is the time it takes to decay to one-half of its original concentration. Ingesting Sr-90 at high enough levels is linked to bone cancer, cancer of soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia.
Although the specific source of the Sr-90 is unclear, it is likely that Sr-90 in ground water and soils at Entergy Vermont Yankee are the result of past leaks and fallout from air releases at the station during its years of operation.
Remember that tritium leak from the pipes that Vermont Yankee denied even existed? Apparently Entergy still lacks the curiosity to investigate, saying that the source will probably remain unknown until decommissioning.
Which brings us to the week’s second big news item about VY.
As predicted here on GMD and by plenty of others, Entergy is beginning to inch away from its decommissioning commitment.
You may recall that, when the Legislature allowed Entergy to purchase Vermont Yankee, everybody spat on their hands and swore a boyscout oath that Entergy would live up to its decommissioning obligation.
Entergy Vermont Yankee was formed as a Limited Liability entity (LLC). This designation shields the greater corporate conglomerate, sharply limiting its liability in the event of a bankruptcy.
With establishment of this arms-length relationship, the writing seemed to be on the wall, that Entergy would one day try to walk away from the high cost of decommissioning, leaving Vermont taxpayers holding the bag.
Recent fancy footwork by the energy giant to justify raiding the decommissioning fund, in order to cover some of the costs of long term onsite storage of spent fuel, only served to increase our anxiety.
That they had been approved for SAFSTOR, a program under which decommissioning can be delayed as much as sixty years, inspired even less confidence.
The drawbacks for the community in such an arrangement are pretty obvious, but the delay also means significant increase in the final cost of decommissioning.
Now, Entergy is showing its cards as it unscrews all the light fixtures and makes for the door.
An Entergy Corp. official said Wednesday the company is offering no guarantees it will pay to decommission its retired Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant if the job’s still not done by the end of a 60-year period.
Of course this announcement was accompanied by much confidence that it would never come to this, and decommissioning would begin just as soon as the fund had grown sufficiently.
However, with the fund already a little anemic, Entergy dipping into the fund to offset the cost of onsite fuel storage, the non-returning status of VY, and an uncertain energy market future; that sounds pretty much like a leaky pipe dream.
Entergy VP Michael Twomey hints it could get ugly:
“There would probably be quite a bit of litigation about that,” Twomey told a joint hearing of the House and Senate Natural Resources committees. “We’d all have different points of view.”
Even though I am proud to be a non-technical member of the Fairewinds Energy Education crew, the opinions expressed here (as always) are my own alone and do not necessarily coincide with those of Fairewinds.