WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - The Vermont congressional delegation today urged the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure a swift cleanup at Vermont Yankee after the license to run the nuclear power plant runs out.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) signed a letter that was drafted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sanders sits on the Senate panel that oversees the NRC, which regulates commercial nuclear plants in the United States.
The lawmakers called it "unacceptable" that Entergy, which owns the Vermont plant, could engage in "decades of delay" before cleaning up the site along the Connecticut River at Vernon, Vt. "Immediate decommissioning will assure Vermonters that the plant is being disassembled safely," the delegation wrote. An immediate cleanup and shutdown of the site also would allow the plant operator to take advantage of the skills of many long-term Yankee employees who otherwise would lose their jobs.
In their letter to Gregory B. Jaczko, the commission chairman, the delegation also asked for a meeting with the full commission. Gov. Peter Shumlin would be invited to participate, they added, because of the "enormous consequences" for Vermont and the state's "vital interest" in the plant's safe shutdown.
Entergy has indicated it favors a so-called "SAFSTOR" decommissioning method, a process that the delegation letter said "would let Entergy off the hook" for cleanup and waste disposal for years or even decades. "While Entergy may prefer leaving the plant to sit like an abandoned factory because it has not saved the necessary funds to fully decommission the plant, this is not the safest option for Vermonters," Leahy, Sanders and Welch wrote.
The drawn-out decommissioning process was used at an idled reactor near Chicago where a frozen pipe burst and 55,000 gallons of radioactive water leaked into a containment building. The discovery of the problem by a night watchman may have kept more pipes from bursting resulting in more serious radiation release.
The delayed decommissioning process is more common at plants like the one in Illinois with more than one reactor and trained personnel still on site running the remaining reactors. It is rarely used for single reactor plants such as Vermont Yankee. Similar plants - including Maine Yankee and the Connecticut Yankee plants - were decommissioned immediately after operations ceased, as is common procedure for single atomic reactors of Vermont Yankee's capacity.