It was predictable, I’m afraid, based on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s record of industry-driven decisions, but allowing Entergy to dip into its Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Fund to cover the costs of onsite spent fuel management was extremely irresponsible.
The total amount of the diversion will be $225. million, or roughly one-third of the existing nest egg.
Neil Sheehan, a spokesperson for the NRC, said the regulators approved the exemption because Entergy is investing the $665 million fund well enough that the company will have enough money to decommission the Vernon plant over a 60-year period. The total cost of decommissioning will likely exceed $1 billion.
The decision appears to have been based almost entirely on Entergy’s own calculations that it will have accumulated ‘plenty’ of money to accomplish decommissioning within the required sixty year timeframe, even with substantial diversion to fuel management costs. They are calling for nothing but sunshine and roses in Entergy’s long range financial forecast of how they intend to grow the fraction of that cost that is represented by the amount that is now in the fund.
Of course, Entergy’s history of reliability is famously deficient but that doesn’t seem to have given the NRC any pause for reflection; neither has the fact that Entergy’s calculations are based on a final decommissioning cost (roughly $1.2 billion) that is now understood by many to be significantly underestimated. The cost is likely to grow higher and higher, the further in the future decommissioning actually occurs.
To appreciate the NRC’s bias in this matter, one has to understand that when the decommissioning fund was established, spent fuel management was expected by both the NRC and Energy to be a short-term affair, with a federal spent fuel repository anticipated in the near future.
It is a matter of extreme inconvenience for the NRC, which is unofficially captive to industry interests while still being nominally a federal agency, that getting any state with acceptable geology to accept a role as the ‘final resting place’ for some of the most dangerous material on earth has been stubbornly elusive.
Despite the fact that the NRC insists on its absolute prerogative on any matter of nuclear safety, it has proven to be a rather poor steward of that responsibility, issuing exemptions to the industry, left-right-and-center, while rarely heeding requests from the public (who actually must bear all risks when it comes to safety) to enforce the rules.
Entergy has even mislead the NRC on occasion; still they are given the benefit of the doubt in a fiduciary matter (growth of the decommissioning fund) that allows full credence to energy’s own captive analysts who insist that raiding the decommissioning fund represents no possibility of shortfalls at the end of the line.
Apparently the NRC has a short memory and simply does not recall the rather broad hint given by Entergy that if decommissioning takes more than sixty years, they expect a court battle with the State of Vermont over who pays the outstanding costs.
Apparently, the NRC places its whole faith in the stock market’s ability to hit the jackpot more often than it goes broke. At this point, any pensioner might be wiser than that.
Anyway you look at it, Vermont’s future with Vermont Yankee is shaping up to be a gamble with some rather unsettling odds.
As always, I must disclose that I am pleased to be associated with Fairewinds Energy Education in a nontechnical capacity; but the opinions shared on Green Mountain Daily are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Fairewinds.