Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday blasted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during an appearance before a Senate panel for asking the Department of Justice to intervene in an Entergy Corp. lawsuit against the state of Vermont over the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. "I was deeply disturbed that the commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission today refused to make public what, as I understand it, was a 3-to-2 vote recommending that the Department of Justice take Entergy's side in their lawsuit against Vermont," Sanders said after the hearing.
"In my view, the federal government should not intervene in the lawsuit that Entergy has filed against the state of Vermont. Federal law is very clear that states have the authority to reject nuclear power for economic reasons and that is what the Vermont state Senate did last year by a strong 26-to-4 bipartisan vote," the senator added.
"If the state of Vermont chooses energy efficiency and sustainable energy for its future, instead of an aging and trouble-ridden nuclear power plant, it is not the place of the NRC to prevent us from doing that. The NRC's mandate is very clear. Its concerns begin and end with safety. It is not supposed to be the arbiter of political or legal disputes between a $14 billion dollar energy company and the people of Vermont."
Sanders questioned commissioners during a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Vermont wants to shut down the reactor after its 40-year license expires next March. Entergy has sued the state in a bid to keep the reactor running.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko previously said the agency would remain neutral in the legal battle. He declined to discuss the deliberations, but under questioning by Sanders Jaczko acknowledged that Entergy officials had met with NRC staff. The company also wanted representatives to meet with Jaczko and other commissioners, but they all said they declined.
In Vermont, the state Senate last year voted to end the plant's authority to operate when the current license expires in 2012. "Entergy should respect Vermont law," Sanders said at the hearing.
In a separate regulatory proceeding in Washington, the NRC earlier this year granted a 20-year extension from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"The NRC regulates safety. That's what your job is," Sanders told the commissioners. "Many people in Vermont think you're not doing that job very well," the senator added. He cited the collapse of a cooling towers and leaks of radioactive tritium. He also noted that Vermont Yankee is one of 23 plants in the United States with the same design as the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.