“Residential Standards” For Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Make Little Sense

By Guy Page

If some in agencies of the Scott Administration pursue their  dream to restore the Vermont Yankee site to “residential standards” (Oct. 18, “Changes could endanger Vermont Yankee sale”), they will be responsible for a deal-killer that makes little sense from the standpoint of past agreements and likely future use.

If required to restore the Vermont Yankee site and spent fuel storage facility to a contrary use, NorthStar CEO Scott State confirmed that the company will drop the plant purchase and decommissioning project. If that happens, current owner Entergy says it must mothball the site in SAFSTOR for 25-50 years.  SAFSTOR is an acronym used by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to describe the longterm shutdown of a closed nuclear plant site, deferring decommissioning and site restoration until many, many years down the road.

As planned, NorthStar would return the site to a green field. It would move all contaminated structures and material, as well as all structures to a depth of four feet below grade (one foot deeper than required by regulations and previous agreements). It would replace all removed material with clean fill, then grade and seed the entire property. The land could be returned to farming, with background radiation levels almost half as much under the federal minimum levels.

But the Town of Vernon has bigger plans than farming. A few acres with material four feet below grade works just fine for the kind of new high-tech employer the town wants: for example, a data center, large manufacturer, or another power plant. (The power plant concept has particular appeal for many town residents who are proud of their community’s century-long legacy of hosting cutting-edge power generating facilities like the Vernon Dam and Vermont Yankee.) For such a project, any competent site designer can work around a handful of in-ground obstacles.

Housing is a different story. The term “residential standards” presumably means what it sounds like: a restored site sub-divided into building lots with potential basements and leach fields.  For this purpose, four feet isn’t deep enough.

And who would build housing on the Vermont Yankee site, anyway? The Town of Vernon envisions a new tax-paying, job-creating clean industry on the Vermont Yankee site. There’s plenty of housing for sale in and around Vernon, and plenty of land on which to build new housing, but there is only one uniquely-advantaged industrial development site – Vermont Yankee. No one is even considering the site for housing. From out of the proverbial left field, the State has introduced a new requirement that is as unnecessary as it is certain to kill the project.

It’s not clear why the State of Vermont would pursue standards not needed for industrial development. Perhaps the gambit is to negotiate the best deal for Vermont by pushing the envelope. That’s good for Vermont as long as we don’t kill the proverbial golden opportunity that the sale to NorthStar provides – an opportunity to regain some of the jobs and revenue lost when Vermont Yankee closed. According to an October 23 article in E&E News, Vermont Yankee’s total annual payroll when operational was $66 million, with a regional economic impact of almost $500 million.

Hopefully, the Public Utilities Commission knows what’s real and what’s not; for example, a housing development on the VY site. For the long-term wellbeing of Vernon and Windham County, let’s hope so.

- Guy Page is a Berlin, Vermont resident and the communications director for the Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition of more than 90 members in support of policies for clean, safe, affordable, and reliable power. Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.

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