What Happens After Nuclear Power Plants Close?

What Happens After Nuclear Power Plants Close?

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide a stronger role for states in the process of decommissioning nuclear power plants like Vermont Yankee. Entergy, the Louisiana utility that owns Vermont Yankee, plans to shut down the reactor by the end of this year but it could take decades to deal with nuclear waste at the Vernon, Vt., site and other matters related to decommissioning the plant. 

At a hearing of the Senate environment committee, which oversees the NRC, Sanders asked all five members of the NRC about the role of states in decommissioning power plants. All agreed that states have a stake in the outcome. None of the commissioners, however, committed to take any steps to give states a greater say in the process.

Unless the NRC makes changes on its own, Sanders said he would introduce legislation to give states a greater role. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the committee chairman, said she would support such a bill.

Sanders said the issue affects not only Vermont but California, Florida, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York and Ohio where aging nuclear power plants also are closing or likely to be shut down in the near future. “Every state with a nuclear power plant has a strong interest in how that plant is decommissioned,” Sanders said. “This is simply about ensuring that states have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in a decision that has enormous economic, environmental, and community impacts,” Sanders added.

States have a stake in the economic impact of plant shutdowns from the loss of jobs and taxes, from environmental impacts related to how long non-operating plants sit idle before being decommissioned, and from the standpoint of what will happen to the plant site once the decommissioning is finished.

Under current rules, Entergy will come up with a decommissioning plan and submit it to the NRC. The state and members of the public could comment on the plan, but the local input could be ignored. “The Vermont Yankee licensee could adopt a decommissioning plan that ignores the needs and interests of Vermonters and the state would have no recourse. That is fundamentally unfair and unreasonable,” Sanders said.

“We are very concerned that the decommissioning process in Vermont could take 60 years or more to complete,” Sanders added. “The licensee has a long history of safety and disclosure problems, despite NRC oversight, including the collapse of a cooling tower and multiple leaks of radioactive material. I hope you can appreciate why the prospect of letting dangerous plant sit there for many decades makes Vermonters uncomfortable,” Sanders said.