Category Archives: Entergy

Save Vermont Yankee. If not you, who? If not now, when?

By Rod Adams

I told some friends the other day that I often feel like a time traveler from the Age of Reason who sees questionable behavior and is forced by training to ask, “Why?”

Although I have already written a couple of articles on this particular topic, it is time for one more post intended to provoke thoughts and discussions aimed at finding a way to prevent an action that we all know is wrong and shortsighted. I’m writing about the pending closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, a 650-MWe nuclear power plant located on the Vermont side of the Vermont/New Hampshire border (also known as the Connecticut River) and only a dozen or so miles from the Massachusetts border.

It is a safe, reliable, zero-emission nuclear power plant with a low, predictable fuel cost and a moderately generous, but predictable payroll. It has recently been extensively refurbished as part of a power uprate program; it has an operating license that is good until 2032 and may be able to be extended; and it has a brand new emergency diesel engine.

It is in a region of the United States where the reliable generating capacity is suddenly so tight that the total auction price for capacity has recently tripled from $1 billion in 2013 to more than $3 billion in the most recent auction.

Aside: It’s probably worth mentioning that if Vermont Yankee had bid into that auction, the prices would have settled at a far lower level. That is the nature of the response in an under damped system that is in a delicate balance; wild swings can result from the imposition of minor disturbances. It is not at all surprising that companies with generating facilities participating in the New England capacity auction did not approach Entergy about purchasing Vermont Yankee. There is no shock in finding out that 100 percent of the companies approached as logical candidates with complimentary assets politely declined to make any bids after a due diligence presentation. End Aside.

Vermont Yankee is also in a region of the country with a growing dependence on natural gas for both electricity and heat, but a pipeline network that was not sized to carry enough gas for both types of customers.

Here is a recent quote from Leo Denault, Entergy Corporation chief executive officer and chairman, about the power situation in New England:

“If we continue to see Northeast power markets drive what should be economical units to retire prematurely and not fairly reward generators for the attributes they provide—including fuel supply diversity and reliability, as well as environmental benefits—what was a volatile outlier this winter… could become a recurring situation.”  Denault also noted the harsh winter’s ability to expose pipeline deficiencies that constrained certain resources during periods of high demand: “There is simply not enough natural gas pipeline capacity in New England to serve both heating demand and natural gas-fired power plants during extreme cold.”

(SNL Energy’s Power Daily — April 25, 2014)

Any industrial customers that are left in the region are left out in the cold, and it can get quite cold in New England, especially during a polar vortex.

The state of Vermont bears a large portion of the responsibility for the pending closure; in fact, there are politicians in the state who have bragged about their success in getting rid of a reliable, low cost, clean energy source (of course, they may slant their claims a bit).

Peter Shumlin—both as senator and then as governor—and his allies made life uncomfortable for Entergy during the 12 years that the company owned the facility. Their efforts added substantial costs to the total operations and maintenance costs and they demanded several different kinds of tribute in return for “allowing” the plant to keep operating.

It is understandable that there are many people on the plant staff who are sad that they are losing their jobs, but conflicted about leaving a state that did not value their contributions anyway.

Unfortunately, nuclear professionals did not do all they could to help the valiant efforts of Meredith and George Angwin, Howard Shaffer, Robert Hargraves, and others who worked hard to counter the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) spread by the professional fear mongers like Arnie Gundersen, or the actions of professional nuclear energy industry critics like Mark Cooper and Peter Bradford.

So far, the antinuclear forces seem to have won the day.

Entergy has announced that no one wanted the plant. I will take them at their word, but I have to ask what kind of effort they invested to market the facility? It is almost like getting up one day and finding out that your neighbor, who owns a house that you always liked and thought would be a great place for your son or daughter to use to raise your grandchildren, had decided to tear down the house to leave a vacant lawn because that was easier than paying the upkeep after they retired to Florida.

He tells you that “everyone” knew the place was for sale and also knew that he planned to tear it down if no one came up with a reasonable offer. Somehow, you never noticed the little “For Sale” sign tucked in the bottom right hand corner of a front window. Perhaps it was because there was an overgrown plant out in front covering the sign.

At any rate, my little allegory would have a happy ending if you just happened to wake up and get your paper early enough on the day that the dumpsters were being delivered to stop your neighbor and halt the destruction before it started.

In the case of Vermont Yankee, there are potentially interested investors that never knew that the plant was for sale. There are also plenty of technically qualified people who could be formed into a technically qualified management team in short order to own and operate a nuclear plant that has already done all of the hard work of establishing procedures, schedules, required programs like QA and RP, and all of the host of other things that would need to be done for any new facility.

The reactions I have received from some very bright people when I describe the current plan can be summarized by the quote I received—second hand—from a correspondent who knows Nathan Myhrvold, the CEO of Intellectual Ventures and a partner with Bill Gates in Terrapower. My correspondent asked Myhrvold if he had any ideas about saving the plant. This is the response he received:

Not really…. It is an insane decision to shut it, but that is what nuclear has become…

Perhaps I am just a little odd, but I just don’t see how people can stand idly by and watch while a small group of people take actions that will harm a much larger group of people over a long time to come. If the action is, indeed, insane, the question is why should we allow it to happen?

Who is going to point out the insanity? When?

Back to the headline, which was the motto over one of the doorways at my alma mater.

“If not you, who? If not now, when?”

I guess that—for now—it’s going to be me and a few diehards who are still working hard in Vermont. With any luck, in a short period of time it will be me, those few diehards, and a dedicated team of well-resourced professionals who recognize that shutting down a well-operated nuclear plant is a betrayal of the people who have worked so hard to try to make the United States less dependent on foreign supplies of energy.

Some might say, who am I to question the analysis and decisions of a big company like Entergy. Surely the people working there know more about the situation than I do and should be trusted to have made the right call. As one of my many heroes famously advised: “Trust, but verify.” After I see the numbers, I might make a different call, but all of the publicly available numbers are pointing me in a different direction.

I may just be a guy who spends a good bit of his day blogging on the Internet, yes sometimes in my PJs. However, I’m also a guy who has been doing that for a long time while also holding down responsible positions in the US Navy and at a respected nuclear power plant design firm.

If you’re fortunate enough to have had the assignments I have had and you are any good at all, you end up meeting a few credible people who respect your ability. I even have a few friends in finance, some from my days at the Naval Academy and some from my sustained but eventually failed efforts to raise capital for Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.

BTW—did you know that the New England power grid burned diesel and jet fuel to supply 4 percent of its winter power this past year and that on some days, generators that were burning distilled petroleum products represented fully 25 percent of the electrical power supply? And those figures happened even WITH Vermont Yankee and Brayton Point supplying reliable power…

vermont yankee c 405x201

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Adams

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

Vermont Yankee closure announced – There is work yet to be done

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontOn August 27, Entergy announced that it plans to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in the fall of 2014, when the plant’s current fuel is depleted. Entergy plans to decommission the plant using the SAFSTOR option, which consists of defueling, mothballing the plant for a period, then dismantling it by the end of 60 years. Entergy said that it is closing the plant because it is no longer projected to make money, considering the estimated future natural gas prices. Electric power generated by gas is now over 50 percent of the ISO-New England grid.

vermont yankee eveningThe announcement came as a surprise to all of us nuclear advocates here “on the ground” in Vermont, although the economy of the plant had been a topic of discussion by financial analysts in the media. For all of us who have worked so hard in support of the plant, and nuclear power, the plant’s announced closing brings a great sadness. We have done our part, and done the best we could, to promote the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. We succeeded through the plant’s relicensing and the federal court cases. On August 13, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals announced its verdict in favor of the plant. The court found that the state of Vermont had tried to regulate radiological safety, which is by law exclusively the domain of the federal government. Nonetheless, the arrival of shale gas has lowered the price of electric power to the point that Vermont Yankee’s break-even price is undercut.

What are we supporters to do now? Do we curse fate and Entergy management for not hanging on? Do we shed tears, lick our wounds, and slink off into the night? NO! Our advocacy goes on. The underlying issues remain the same. The world-wide antinuclear movement seeks any opportunity to discredit nuclear power, in any way it can—by delaying legal proceedings, protesting in order to run up costs, and every other possible tactic to serve their purpose. Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning is yet another opportunity for the antinuclear movement. Historically, it has inserted itself into other decommissionings in New England.

peter shumlin c 120x148

Governor Shumlin of Vermont

The state of Vermont, through the governor and others, have announced that it will oppose the SAFSTOR option, and advocate for finishing the decommissioning as soon as possible. This is not a surprise. Vermont Yankee received a 20-year license renewal from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011. During the relicensing discussions, decommissioning was examined. The opponents said that they want everything about the plant gone as soon as possible. They are demanding a “greenfield” process where the site is returned to its condition prior to the plant’s construction, and is available for unlimited use. Their definition of “greenfield” includes excavating, no matter how deep, to remove all traces of even the non-radioactive foundations. The governor tipped his hand two years ago, as reported in this Yes Vermont Yankee post.

protestors 195x130Once in a while, when trying to prove a point, the proof drops into your lap. On September 4, an op-ed by one of the Vermont Yankee opponents was published. It clearly says that the SAFSTOR proposal is a “line in the asphalt.” All of us who believe in nuclear power need to read, and understand, what this letter means.

There is much work to be done here and elsewhere in continuing to tell the truth and opposing the spread of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt at the grassroots level.

A decommissioning plan is not due to the NRC until two years after the plant’s shutdown. Then, the discussion begins. That could be the end of 2015 or 2016.

Stay tuned!

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Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow.  He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of the Vermont Grassroots Project. 

Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT.  He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Why don’t we “mothball” shutdown nuclear plants?

By Rod Adams

In May 2013, the United States lost a perfectly functional and well-maintained nuclear power plant, the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant. Last week, Entergy announced that it would be shutting down a second such plant, Vermont Yankee, after its current fuel load has been consumed. In both cases, the owners indicated that the plants were no longer economical due to market conditions; namely, the low price of natural gas, the presence of subsidized renewable energy suppliers that can pay the grid to take their power and still receive revenue for every kilowatt-hour generated, and an insufficient market demand for electricity in the markets where the plants were attempting to sell their output.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

Under similar market conditions, conventional power plant owners might decide to shutdown the plant but make provisions to ensure that the plant could be restored to service if needed, or if the market conditions change by either increasing revenue opportunities, lowering operating costs, or both. However, in each of the nuclear power plant cases under discussion, the owners decided that their best course of action was to announce a permanent shutdown with the concurrent action of giving up the plant operating license. In both cases, the plant operating licenses had been recently extended for an additional 20 years.

Giving up an operating license for a nuclear power plant in the United States is a permanent choice with implications that run into the many billions of dollars; there has never been a situation where a plant owner gave up an operating license and was subsequently granted another license to operate that plant.

The closest precedent available is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry. All three units were shutdown in 1985, each was later restored to operating status (1991, 1995, and 2007). The difference at Browns Ferry was that the owner (TVA) never gave up the operating licenses.

Unfortunately, there are several aspects of current rules that discourage nuclear plant owners from choosing to mothball plants.

There are only two license choices available for the owner of a nuclear power plant. The owner can maintain an operating license, which costs a minimum of $4.4 million per year in fees to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the owner can choose to give up the operating license for a “possession only” license. That costs just $231,000 per year, plus the cost of any additional regulatory services, which are billed to licensees at a rate of $274 per staff hour. (Note: Some operating licensees pay more than the minimum because they have special conditions that require additional regulatory services. If that is true, those services are billed at the same $274 per staff hour rate.)

In addition to the annual operating license fee, a company that seeks to maintain an operating license must maintain a certain level of staff proficiency and must maintain a security force sized to prevent a design basis threat from gaining control of the facility and causing the plant to release radioactive material. Of course, a plant that is in a state of semi-permanent shutdown could probably make a successful case for maintaining a substantially reduced staff compliment; there might already be a reduced staffing precedent available from the long-term shutdown and eventual restoration of TVA’s Browns Ferry.

The owners of a plant that is being held in a semi-permanent shutdown state could also make a good case to the NRC that they should be allowed to defer any required investments in new capabilities until such time as they decide that they are going to restart the plant. A semi-permanently shutdown plant would not need to purchase any new fuel or pay any additional contributions to the nuclear waste fund; those contributions are based on the amount of nuclear electricity generation.

However, during any period of semi-permanent shutdown, a nuclear plant will be consuming days of potential operation; nuclear plant operating licenses are issued on a strict calendar basis with no ability to reclaim days. Even if there is no stress or strain put on any plant components because the plant is shut down and cooled down, the calendar keeps turning pages. Owners are logically reluctant to keep up the spending on a plant that might only have a few years of life remaining after the market finally turns around.

Without access to the detailed financial analysis used by Dominion and Entergy to determine that the best course of action was to permanently shutdown Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee, I have to make an educated guess about the considerations that drove their decision. It seems highly unlikely that the operating license fee difference was enough to cause utilities to give up an asset whose replacement cost would be at least $3 billion–$5 billion. The ongoing personnel costs might have been high enough to tip the balance, but I doubt it.

I got a hint in a Bloomberg article about Entergy’s decision to shut down Vermont Yankee.

The reactor was expected to break even this year, with earnings declining in futures years, the company said. Closing it will increase cash flow by about $150 million to $200 million through 2017.

(Emphasis added.)

That’s right. Entergy has determined, and announced to the investment community, that closing down a production facility that produces about 4.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year using fuel that costs just 0.7 cents per kilowatt hour will result in a substantial improvement in their cash flow. That is true even though the plant will not be producing any product and even though the company will incur some transition costs.

The jewel for Entergy is that the owner of a plant in a decommissioning status has access to the decommissioning fund that was set aside at the time that the plant was built and received additional funds over the years that the plant operated. In the case of Vermont Yankee, the decommissioning fund balance is $582 million. Tapping that fund will allow the company to book more revenue.

There is one more factor that is probably more important for Entergy than it was for Dominion. Removing production facilities in a market that is suffering from low prices as a result of insufficient market demand is a tried and true strategy for commodity suppliers. If enough production facilities stop producing the oversupplied product, it will enable the remaining facilities to raise prices to a more profitable level.

Since Entergy has a number of other facilities that sell into the Northeast U.S. electricity market, it will benefit when those price increases happen. Since Dominion’s Kewaunee was its only facility in the Midwest, it is hard to see any direct benefit to Dominion in the form of increased market prices.

I hope that your reaction to reading this explanation is to start thinking about ways to change the situation, before we lose any more emission-free, reliable, low-cost nuclear electricity production facilities.

Kewaunee Power Station

Kewaunee Power Station

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Adams

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station to close end of 2014

“Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station generates 72.5 percent of the state’s electricity while emitting no greenhouse gases.”

So reads the first sentence of a fact sheet on Vermont Yankee from the Nuclear Energy Institute. By “greenhouse gases,” read “virtually any emissions at all.”

It seems that this single, enormous fact would have long ago settled debate about the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. However, it is not environmental debate that will close the plant next year. It is an electricity market structure that undervalues fuel supply diversity, and continuous, reliable, baseload generation of massive supplies of emission-free energy.

Entergy Corporation, owner and operator of the plant, explained its reasoning for the decision in this press release and FAQ.

Many thanks to the professionals at Vermont Yankee, among the best in the business, who continue to safely operate the plant.

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Power Play: People, Politics, Electricity, Nuclear

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontEnergy-related events in Vermont continue to be a jumble of citizen activism, political maneuvering, changes to the electric power system, and an overall focus on nuclear power.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant continues to run well. Among recent developments, plant owner Entergy is reorganizing personnel and is slightly reducing staff systemwide—Vermont Yankee will lose 30 positions by the end of the year, some through retirement. False alarms from refueling floor radiation monitors led to detector replacements. A lawsuit over extra power costs due to cooling tower outages years ago was settled.

Citizen activism

The “usual suspects” have, of course, weighed in on the staff reduction at Vermont Yankee. The New England Coalition and Vermont Public Interest Research Group have asked the Vermont Public Service Board, which is considering Vermont Yankee’s application for a new Certificate of Public Good needed to continue operation of the plant, to consider the layoffs as a pertinent factor in terms of reliability and economic impact. This, in spite of the fact that the financial capability of a nuclear power plant to operate safely is a matter of the original plant application and continuing license, and that a federal court has ruled that the state of Vermont has intruded on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over nuclear safety. It will be interesting to see if the board takes up this issue, especially since the positions to be eliminated have not been announced.

The SAGE Alliance, for the second consecutive year, is sponsoring a flotilla to travel down the Connecticut River to the Vermont Yankee plant. The event is purportedly to publicize concerns about river warming by the plant. However, that issue is already undergoing a thorough investigation by regulatory agencies. A final decision on a new water discharge permit will come after consideration of the latest science by outside experts working for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

On August 6, the 68th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, a small group of repeat protesters once again blocked the Vermont Yankee plant gates, delaying second shift personnel from entering. The protestors were arrested again. The only press coverage was through the group’s press release—in the Park Forrest, IL news (per Google search).

our children climate faith symposium 201x208Two climate change events have been organized for mid-month. One of them, Our Children, Climate, Faith Symposium will feature speakers from many religious faiths, and is sponsored by the United Church of Strafford. The event is organized by Jeff Wolfe, a member of that church, and the founder of groSolar, a solar installation company.

The second event, The Rendezvous: Truth, Justice, Culture, Energy, will look at “the thorny, ineffective, policy mess that currently passes for a response to climate change at the state and federal level.” It is a “meet-up” sponsored by Mountain Occupiers, a group of conservationists and renewable energy advocates. The event will take place on the family farm of one of the lead organizers.

Political maneuvering

The 63-MW Lowell Mountain wind farm, recently completed, is not always able to send all of its power to the grid. The problem is described by the grid operator, ISO New England, as “inadequate infrastructure.” A $10-million synchronous condenser is under construction.

lowell turbines 206x201That a major generating project could go into service without adequate transmission seems rather strange, to say the least. What happened and why has not yet been ferreted out. During a recent heat wave affecting Vermont and much of the country, Lowell Mountain’s output could not be entirely accepted because of these transmission problems. Thus a slanted word was applied—“curtailed”—as Meredith Angwin discusses at Yes Vermont Yankee. Meredith says “not dispatched” is a more apt description—and perhaps it should be “unable to be dispatched.” Vermont’s Governor Shumlin sent a letter to ISO New England complaining about the failure to use all available renewable energy during a time of peak demand.

Vermont Yankee recently had some false alarms from the area radiation detectors on the refueling floor. Operators followed procedures, then immediately checked to see if plant conditions revealed the source of the alarms. Everything was normal, so a technician with a portable instrument verified that all was safe. The instruments were replaced, and the manufacturer indicated that there had been problems with these instruments. The state Department of Public Service has sent a letter to the NRC requesting detailed information on the event.

Electric power

In addition to the transmission connection problems with the Lowell Mountain wind farm, the Vermont Public Service Board will investigate alleged violations of noise restrictions in considering that project’s Certificate of Public Good.

There is also an ongoing discussion of the state’s Energy Plan, including how much electric power will be needed in the future. The goal is 90 percent renewable sources for all energy used by 2050. “All” includes transportation and building heating as well. With current and foreseeable technologies, this means most personal transportation will need to be electric. This factor alone implies roughly tripling the state’s electric power use. A concurrent goal is for these energy sources to be in-state.

The state has programs to encourage renewable energy projects of all kinds. The state’s comprehensive energy plan at first allowed only small hydro-electric projects, but when this seemed problematic for the schedule, the legislature allowed prospective and existing large projects to be included—however, the fact that Hydro-Quebec is not exactly in-state does not seem to be an immediate concern.

Nuclear power

Some years ago the Vermont legislature created the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP). It is chaired by the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, with members from state agencies, the legislature, and the public. The panel meets periodically on an apparently random schedule. I’ve never heard or read of it making any recommendations to the legislature. Instead, it seems to serve as a vehicle for members of the public to vent against Vermont Yankee. The panel met on July 17 and heard an hour-long, fact-filled presentation from Entergy engineer Bernard Buteau. The lessons learned from the Fukushima accident and the actions the plant has taken and will take were presented, followed by a grilling of questions by the panel members.

In the recently completed legislative session, a bill was passed to expand the number of people the Red Cross would shelter for an extended period of time due to an evacuation caused by Vermont Yankee. The cost, of course, gets passed to the plant.

The plant itself is operating at full capacity and is legally in a holding pattern. Entergy sued the state over the legislature’s preventing the Public Service Board from releasing its findings on a new Certificate of Public Good for the plant. This was a de facto shutdown move, and the plant won in federal district court. This decision was appealed to the circuit court of appeals, and heard in January. A decision is awaited. Meanwhile, the Public Service Board started all over on the Certificate of Public Good, and has concluded the hearings. Final briefs are due soon and the board’s schedule calls for completion of its work this fall.

The future

What will the Public Service Board do when they have reached a decision on the Certificate of Public Good—but before the federal court decision is final? An existing act of the legislature blocks them from releasing the board’s findings. That act is in the courts. When the courts finish—what happens? If the act is struck down, then the Certificate of Public Good findings would be released. If the decision were to not issue a Certificate of Public Good, thus calling for a shut down, it is my opinion that Entergy would sue in state court, at least.

Meanwhile, the power play of this jumble of forces—very much like a “tug of war”—will continue for many years. Climate change will continue to be an issue, as will energy and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

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Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermont Grassroots Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Love Feast Under The Golden Dome

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontVermont’s Capitol building has a gold-painted domed roof. The media reports legislative activity somewhat derisively as taking place “under the golden dome.”

On April 25, Arnie Gundersen (of Fairewinds Associates, of Vermont), a well-known nuclear opponent, spoke before Vermont’s House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He was welcomed with open arms to testify on House bill H-139, regarding post-closure activities at nuclear power plant sites.

golden dome 268x201Legislative concerns

Nuclear opponents have continually raised concerns about the return of the Vermont Yankee plant site to a “greenfield” condition after the plant’s eventual decommissioning. The opponents assert that the original agreement to build the plant promised that the site would be returned to the condition that existed there before the plant was built. They have asserted that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulations don’t require enough cleanup to achieve safe radiation levels and to remove all traces of the plant, and so bill H-139 would require an additional $40-million fund toward site cleanup.

Further, the opponents don’t like the fact that used fuel is kept in fuel pools for longer than five years. Used fuel in pools is not covered by bill H-139, but the issue was discussed during the April 25 meeting. A week earlier, the committee heard testimony from Robert Alvarez, of the anti-nuclear Institute for Policy Studies organization, on the fuel-pool issue.  I testified that pool storage of fuel is safe at a session immediately before Mr. Gundersen’s.

As it now stands, used fuel in dry casks will remain on the Vermont Yankee site after its decommissioning. Dry cask storage of used fuel already exists in New England at the former Yankee, Maine Yankee, and Connecticut Yankee sites.

A red carpet welcome

The April 25 meeting began with Chairman Tony Klein stating that H-139 is not about radiological safety, but about land use and the risk to ratepayers and taxpayers. He enthusiastically welcomed Gundersen back to testify.

Gundersen stated that he was appearing at the meeting as a private citizen, after having been previously employed by the legislature on panels to review the  Vermont Yankee plant. Since his earlier appearance, he has been to Japan, written a book about the Fukushima accident that is a best-seller in Japan, and is writing a report concerning the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California. He is a leader in the anti-nuclear industry, and all he says and does must be taken in that context.

Gundersen

Gundersen

Painting the blackest possible picture

In his April 25 testimony and during his answers to questions, Gundersen made every effort to link the Vermont Yankee plant to as many problems as possible. In short, it was a skillful presentation by a leading practitioner of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD).

(The points made below are listed in the order in which Gundersen presented them, as taken from my own notes. This makes for a long and jumbled list, but to edit it into a more precise sequence, as a media report might do, would lose the sense of what was presented to the members of the legislature.)

Gundersen said:

  • Of the 104 nuclear power plants in the United States, five are broken or shut down.
  • The Kewaunee nuclear power plant (owned by Dominion Generation) in Wisconsin is closing.
  • Entergy, which owns the Vermont Yankee plant, has two nuclear fleets: six are utility plants and six are merchant plants.
  • Single-unit plants have a relatively high (per unit) operating cost.
  • Vermont Yankee is a merchant plant with no rate base to support it.  Vermont Yankee is therefore “Kewaunee east.” (My note: Vermont Yankee has a customer, the ISO-New England system.)
  • For Vermont Yankee, it’s not 20 years of operation, it’s “20 years of one-night stands.”
  • Vermont’s second oversight report on Vermont Yankee (Gundersen was one of the authors) proved that the plant’s “tritium leak” was tied to resource allocation. The oversight report was limited to Vermont Yankee’s non-safety systems.
  • The possibility of (an early) shutdown of Vermont Yankee can’t be ignored.
  • The Vermont Yankee plant will break at some point.
  • Entergy funds its maintenance for Vermont Yankee from a pot of money for all its plants. First to be funded are those things dealing with  NRC requirements, and after that the plants must fight with each other to divide up the rest of Entergy’s pot.
  • The price of electricity is down. A report by financial services company UBS says that Vermont Yankee is on the ropes. Entergy wrote down Vermont Yankee’s value by $350 million. Vermont Yankee can’t pay its way in the Entergy system.

Questions and… Gundersen’s answers?

Question: What happened to the main condenser issue?

Answer:  This recent refueling replaced no major components. (My note: Most who are knowledgeable of boiling water reactors such as Vermont Yankee would consider a recirculation pump motor a “major component.”)

Minor repairs for tube leaks were made.

The next refueling will be the “big one”—uprate hearings identified the main condenser as nearing the end of its life.

The next refueling will cost $250 million. If an order for the condenser             and fuel is not placed, then we will know that Vermont Yankee is shutting          down.

  • The fuel pool is full. Vermont Yankee will need to buy dry casks. (My note: Pool is not full now. There is room for a full-core offload plus the next refueling, at least.)
  • Vermont Yankee will have to do post-Fukushima mandated modifications. The plant has only 8 hour batteries. Another utility, Constellation Nuclear, has estimated $40 million for these modifications.

Question:  What are other places doing?

Answer: Kewaunee estimates $1 billion for decommissioning. The NRC estimates $500 million.

  • Vermont Yankee may not have enough money for decommissioning. BWRs such as Vermont Yankee cost more to decommission than pressurized water reactors. Vermont Yankee should have $1.5 billion in its decommissioning fund.
  • Gundersen’s Fairewinds Associates did a cash flow analysis in 2007. The Entergy Vermont Yankee LLC will be bankrupt in 5 to 6 years after shutdown.
  • With the LLC there is no protection for Vermont. Entergy is off the hook.
  • NRC decommissioning requirements do not include “greenfield.”

Question: What is greenfield?

Answer:  It is not defined by law. Sarah Hoffman (former Vermont Department of Public Service public advocate) says 10 mrem per year above original site dose. The NRC says 25 mrem. Maine Yankee used 10 mrem in its decommissioning.

  • My experience with decommissioning …(two stories about manufacturing facilities using nuclear material that had problems, and one story about the Department of Energy’s Hanford site).
  • Vermont Yankee had a leak into the soil around the plant. It will get under the foundations. Decommissioning chases contaminated soil from a leak until the contamination is undetectable. But all foundations must be removed to be sure you get it all.
  • $40 million may not be enough in the “Greenfield fund.”
  • The decommissioning owner must set aside $60 million (to manage the shutdown plant until decommissioning begins.) The decommissioning fund will reimburse the owners.
  • (The state) should ask for a cash flow analysis.
  • “You can be certain Entergy won’t pay.”

Question:  What will be left above ground?

Answer: Per the NRC, cooling towers and the office building can stay. But in BWRs such as Vermont Yankee, there is contamination “all over the site.” All machinery is gone. Buildings are demolished to several feet below grade.

  • The NRC said that it will go back to the original owners to get enough money for decommissioning.
  • Entergy’s Indian Point-2 and -3, in New York State, are a separate Entergy LLC.
  • In Japan the company pays all.

Question: Didn’t the NRC send a letter to Vermont Yankee saying that its decommissioning estimate was adequate?

Answer: Vermont Yankee estimated greenfield cost at $40 million in 2008. The estimate was done by TLG, an Entergy owned company.

Question:  Why is used fuel kept in the pool?

Answer:  If taken out now, Entergy pays. If taken out in decommissioning, the fund pays. If the plant operates to 2032  and goes into SAFSTOR, the used fuel must be removed from the reactor and the pool.

Chairman Klein: I visited the plant a few times and was told that the dry cask pad will only hold enough for operation to 2012.

  • (Gundersen) The offsite exposure from Vermont Yankee is pretty significant due to “sky shine.” (My note: Committee member Mike Hebert told me that he was not pleased with Gundersen’s comment. Hebert is the state representative for Vernon, the town where the plant is located. An elementary school that is nearby to Vermont Yankee has radiation detection equipment and is included in the plant’s annual environmental survey. Exposure is background.)
  • The NRC assumes 5%/year (decommissioning) fund growth and 3%/year inflation.
  • If there is money available there is no benefit to extending the date of decommissioning after shutdown.

Wrap-up

This issue and bill H-139 will not be considered by the Vermont legislature this session, which will end soon. I expect that the bill will be considered when the legislature returns in January 2014.

As stated above, Gundersen’s performance was a skillful use of FUD.

Nonetheless, the evidence contradicts Gundersen. The NRC gave Vermont Yankee a Green (the best) “report card” for 2012. The plant just completed a refueling in less than a month, after a “breaker to breaker” run (non- stop since the last refueling). Entergy is solidly behind the plant, as evidenced by its pursuit of a federal court suit against the state of Vermont for intruding on the NRC’s domain of safety. The employees and supporters of Vermont Yankee are firmly behind the plant and its continued operation, as shown by their participation in political activities in support of the plant.

_______________________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow.  He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach.

He is coordinator for the Vermont Grassroots Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Yankee and Optimism

By Meredith Angwin

Refueling optimism

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will refuel this spring, probably in March or April. Vermont Yankee’s statement announcing the refueling was optimistic about the plant’s future. Spokesman Rob Williams

“We’re proceeding business-as-usual and making upgrades where necessary. As we plan this outage our assumption is we’re operating until 2032”  (quoted by Terri Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press).

The Hallenbeck article also noted: There’s been much speculation that the 41-year-old plant’s closure might be impending

This negative speculation about the plant was based on a UBS report that claimed that Vermont Yankee is uneconomical and might well be closed by Entergy. Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger reported on this analysis, and an earlier article by Stein provides a link directly to the UBS report.

I wasn’t negative. I thought Vermont Yankee would refuel. As a matter of fact, I posted a blog article titled: Vermont Yankee is Refueling and I Sort of Told You So.

The “I told you so” incident came about a week before Entergy announced that it was refueling. Pat Bradley ( WAMC Plattsburgh NY) interviewed three people, including me. She asked us all about the UBS report, and I was the only one who thought the plant would continue to operate. (A link to the interview is here—it’s about three minutes long).

My optimism

Much of my optimism was a reflection of my knowledge of tendencies in the price of natural gas in this region. We have few pipelines, and when natural gas prices are higher, they force the price of electricity to be high. About a day after I was interviewed, Matt Wald of the New York Times published an article about gas and electricity prices: In New England, a Natural Gas Trap. His article confirmed my statements about gas and electricity prices in this region. Jim Hopf’s post on Potential nuclear plant closures and what could be done to stop them at ANS Nuclear Cafe also supported my optimism (the early section on natural gas prices is most relevant to Vermont Yankee).

But there’s another reason: I had learned by experience. In other words, in the past, I made a very public mistake. A year and a half ago I made a wrong prediction. I predicted that Vermont Yankee would NOT refuel at that time.  When I predicted this, a federal case about the plant was totally unresolved.

Happily, I was wrong, and Vermont Yankee did refuel. Then, the federal case was resolved a few months later, with the judge ruling for Vermont Yankee. Now it is true that the judge’s ruling has been appealed by the state, and also true that the Public Service Board hearings about the plant are still on-going. However, the current situation feels far more positive than it was a year and a half ago. Looking back at that time, I was wrong to be a pessimist.

In other words, this former pessimist has turned into an optimist.

Gas price optimism

click to enlarge

And what about those gas prices? A year and a half ago, Vermont natural gas prices were $5.80 per MMCF and trending downward.

More recently, they have been at $5.90 MMCF and trending upward.

On a broader basis (though our prices are mostly pipeline-constrained in the northeast), the rig count is low and the Henry Hub price is trending higher.

These gas prices give reasons to expect higher electricity prices in the Northeast, and therefore a better economic outlook for merchant generators in our area (such as Vermont Yankee).

Taking action: eBook optimism

I have another, more personal reason for optimism. In November, many people made statements in support of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing. I was so impressed with the breadth and quality of this support that I asked people for copies of their statements. I received some of the statements, and I posted them as guest posts on my blog at Yes Vermont Yankee. I described this series of posts in my ANS Nuclear Cafe post: Vermont Yankee’s Greatest Hits from the Public Service Board Hearing.

But I wanted to do more with these statements, to use them to inspire others to speak for nuclear energy and nuclear plants. But how would we do this? Yesterday’s blog posts are a bit like yesterday’s newspaper: a periodical, and who will go back and read them? So I decided that these pro-Vermont Yankee statements needed to have a better home. In other words, they needed to be in a book.

My husband George and I just finished compiling an eBook: Voices for Vermont Yankee (George did most of the work). We finished it about two days ago. It contains the testimony, the pictures, and introductory material. You can buy a copy for $2.99 at Amazon for the Kindle, or at Barnes and Noble for the Nook. You don’t need an e-reader to read the book. Free e-reader apps are available for PCs, Macs, Androids, Blackberries, iPhones, and more.

I am sure you will find the combined statements in support of Vermont Yankee, all together in a book, more impressive than scrolling through my blog posts.  Within the book, they are beautifully organized and presented (George’s work) and the statements themselves are so powerful. But I am not just writing this to sell the book (though I hope you will buy it). I also have advice to give away, and my advice is free!

My advice to fellow bloggers: Build some eBooks! More pronuclear bloggers could put together eBooks on specific subjects. Let me give one example of why there should be eBooks. If you want to read Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories, why leaf through tattered old copies of science fiction magazines? The stories were first published in such magazines, but later they were assembled in a book: I, Robot. It is much easier to buy the book directly.

Perhaps a similar principle sometimes applies to blogs. If there’s a subject you have covered in a series of blog posts, you can put an eBook together, and the book will be something you can point to, refer to, or suggest that people buy. “Get the eBook” is far more understandable than telling people that if they go to a blog and search for the keyword “economics” (for example) they will find some interesting stuff.

Let’s move pro-nuclear material into yet another format, and have yet another route for pro-nuclear communication.

What are the eBooks in YOUR future?

______________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents. 

Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Weather Gets Colder – Vermont Yankee Politics Continue Hot

By Howard Shaffer

Some long-awaited events related to the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant took place toward the end of 2012, such as the trial of some members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group (known to the media as the “nuclear grannies”) who have been arrested many times for blocking Vermont Yankee’s gates.  Some unexpected events have occurred as well, such as a Public Service Board ruling and a brand new lawsuit by a long-term intervenor.

Before the Public Service Board

The Vermont Yankee plant’s US Nuclear Regulatory Commission license was renewed for twenty years in March 2012.  However, the plant also requires a Certificate of Public Good from the state of Vermont in order to operate.  The original Certificate expired on the same day as the original NRC license, but the plant continues to operate under a Federal Court injunction which would prevent the state from shutting the plant down.

Public Service Board members David Coen, Commissioner John Volz, and John Burke, court reporter at left

In the spring, Entergy applied to the Public Service Board of Vermont to change orders concerning the plant’s end dates — to update the expiration dates of Board orders on sale of the plant to Entergy, and approval of Dry Cask Storage.  These expiration dates are the same as the Certificate of Public Good, so on paper the plant is operating in violation of state law.

The Board decided to open a new docket and start over again on the Certificate of Public Good process, after the Federal Court decision and injunction.  On November 29, the Board denied Entergy’s request.  This denial was reported by some media as the Board slapping down Entergy, making it sound like a major blow to the plant.  In fact, the Board stated in its ruling that the ruling was narrow, and did not foretell how it would rule on the new process.

The Board’s ruling inspired the New England Coalition to file suit in Vermont Supreme Court asking the court to enforce the expiration dates and shut the plant down.  The suit is under review.  The suit of course generated media coverage, and must have inspired opponents, which appears to be the purpose.  However, from a citizens’ viewpoint it is ridiculous to ask the state court to act contrary to a Federal Court injunction.  We’ll see.  For those who wish to pore through the legal details, Yes Vermont Yankee has a great detailed post.

New Hampshire Public Radio

Laura Knoy, host of The Exchange

New Hampshire Public radio’s popular call-in interview program “The Exchange” explores topics of public concern, and has done many programs over the years on nuclear power, Vermont Yankee, and Seabrook plant in New Hampshire.  I was already scheduled to be on the program before the Public Service Board’s finding and the lawsuit, so my appearance on December 6 was quite timely.  I was in the studio, while Ray Shadis, technical advisor to the New England Coalition, and John Dillon, Vermont Public Radio reporter, were call-in guests.  Listen online

On the program, I placed the Vermont Yankee issue in the context of a Congressional Public Policy decision, which found that a minute local risk was worth the public good for the country as a whole, where the policy objective is replacing coal burning for power generation.  The Coalition’s new tack is that natural gas plants can be built quickly, so these should be used instead of nuclear plants, which take a longer time to bring into service. The Coalition judges that the gas plants’ release of carbon dioxide is only half that of coal plants… so they are preferable to nuclear power (which emit almost no carbon dioxide at all!).

In response to the host’s question about political support for nuclear power, the Coalition admitted that nuclear power indeed does have support from a majority of Congress.  In kind, the host asked me, why not give up on nuclear power since it seems “too difficult” in the New England region.  I replied that companies in New England have indeed given up for the time being — no new plants are proposed here, while they are under construction in other parts of the country.

On Trial at Last

The Shut It Down Affinity Group have been actively protesting against Vermont Yankee for years by blocking the plant gates and getting arrested.  Some members recently went on trial for the very first time (in the past, prosecutors have not felt it worthwhile to waste court time while providing a public protest platform).  This time, the “nuclear grannies” protest, which included chaining themselves to the gates, took place two days after hurricane Irene had devastated Vermont (the “grannies” actually hail from Massachusetts).  Local first responders were busy helping hurricane victims, but were interrupted by having to arrest the grannies again.

A jury found them guilty.  The judge fined them, even though some wanted to go to jail instead.  Some said they would not pay, and the judge warned that the order would be turned over to a collection agency, with fees added.  The local Brattleboro Reformer editorialized against the grannies.

A ‘Small’ Anniversary
On December 2, on the anniversary of the first man-made chain reaction, the calendar for the Vermont Yankee opponent coalition SAGE Alliance listed a protest at the plant gates.  Four showed up for less than an hour.

And A Positive End to the Year
Vermont Yankee’s site vice President, Chris Wamser, issued a press release thanking all the supporters who came to and spoke at the Public Service Board’s Public Input sessions.  One was face-to-face, and the other via multi-site interactive television.  The press carried the release, which is certainly a positive note.

Best wishes to all in the New Year!

 

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach.

He is Coordinator for the Vermont Grassroots Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel: Safety Again!

By Meredith Angwin

VSNAP is the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel. This state panel gives advice to the state government on nuclear issues. The most recent meeting was in Montpelier, Vermont, on July 9.

In my opinion, VSNAP has not accepted the fact that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in charge of nuclear safety. In other words, while a Federal judge already ruled in Entergy v. Vermont that nuclear safety is in the purview of the NRC but not the state – the state still doesn’t “get it.”

Bill Irwin (designee of the Agency of Human Services); Larry Becker (designee of the Agency of Natural Resources); Elizabeth Miller (Chair and Commissioner of PSD); Leslie Kanat (public member appointed by Governor Shumlin); Rep Sarah Edwards (Representative, chosen by the Speaker of the House); Jim Matteau (public member, appointed by Governor Shumlin). Not pictured, Sen. Mark McDonald (Senator, chosen by the Committee on Committees) (thanks to Sarah Hofmann of the Department of Public Service)

Many Changes

I had been to VSNAP meetings in the days before Governor Shumlin was elected, but I had missed some meetings that took place more recently. I wondered how the panel’s deliberations had changed. Since the last time I attended the panel:

* A Governor (Governor Shumlin) opposed to Vermont Yankee was elected, and he appointed a new Department of Public Service Commissioner, Liz Miller

* Vermont Yankee received its license extension from the NRC

* Reactors similar to Vermont Yankee suffered melt-downs at Fukushima

* Vermont Yankee won its federal lawsuit against the state of Vermont. The judge ruled that the state of Vermont has no authority over nuclear safety issues. Such issues are controlled by the NRC.

In the Old Days

The VSNAP panel includes two members of the Vermont legislature, a Senator and a Representative, appointed by the legislature. The panel is chaired by the Commissioner of the Department of Public Service; the Commissioner is appointed by the Governor. “In the old days” when I went to these panels, the Governor was in favor of Vermont Yankee operation and many in the legislature were against it. Back then, the Commissioner and the two legislative panelists were on opposite sides of the fence about nuclear matters.

In those days, the legislative panelists attempted to wrest control of the meeting from the Commissioner. At one memorable meeting, “wresting control” of the meeting included one of the legislators attempting to wrest the actual microphone out of the Commissioner’s hands.

Naturally, in those days, the panel talked about nuclear safety.

Times Have Changed

Those were the exciting old days. The new Commissioner, Liz Miller, has been appointed by the anti- Vermont Yankee governor, Peter Shumlin. She is basically on the same side of the nuclear fence as the legislative panelists. The meetings have calmed down. Microphone-wrestling is over.

In another change, this meeting was held in Montpelier, not Brattleboro or Vernon. (Brattleboro and Vernon are near the southern boundary of Vermont. The plant is in Vernon.) Liz Miller wants people throughout the state to have access to VSNAP meetings. I think this is a good idea. The same people always formerly came to the meetings. Many of the regular attendees came from nearby Massachusetts.

However, this Montpelier meeting had few attendees, and only three members of the public spoke during the public comment section. I think that if the former Commissioner had tried to move the VSNAP meeting away from the Brattleboro area, the proposed move might have been seen as a trick to make it difficult for plant opponents to attend the meetings. However, Miller was able to move the meeting and include people from different parts of Vermont.

Miller has also made the VSNAP website available to the public (a good thing!). You can hear audio files of the entire meeting here. Other VSNAP documents are available at the site.

Advising on Safety

VSNAP is an “advisory” panel. It doesn’t vote on anything, its job is to advise the state government (agencies and elected officials) on issues relating to nuclear power. It can talk about anything, since it is advisory only.

As far as I can tell, VSNAP advises the state government on safety, safety and safety. The panel had asked Entergy for a briefing on Fukushima upgrades required by the NRC. The Entergy presentation was the main business of the meeting. After Entergy’s presentation, it was almost as if the Judge’s ruling hadn’t happened.

The panel members asked about safety issues internal to the plant. Representative Sarah Edwards was concerned with the Mark I containment. Senator Mark MacDonald claimed that the NRC doesn’t enforce its own standards. He stated that the NRC will “change the graduation requirements, and everybody graduates.” Panel members suggested Entergy should move rapidly toward taking the fuel out of the fuel pool and putting it in dry casks (for increased safety, of course). Miller was concerned with the steam dryer and whether the plant was working effectively to coordinate with first responders in an emergency situation. The diesel generators, the hardened vents, diesel fuel storage. All were up for discussion.

One particular exchange showed the mood of the meeting. The Entergy presenter said “The Fukushima accident” as part of his presentation. Senator MacDonald interrupted him. “Was Fukushima an accident?” At that point, Miller asked MacDonald to hold his questions until the end of the presentation, but then she added: “Point well taken.”

The state panel, being advisory, can legitimately discuss anything. However, the question does arise: after they have held these meetings about safety, whom are they planning to advise? The legislature is in the middle of a court case about federal pre-emption,. The Attorney General (AG) denies that the legislature ever voted on “safety.” The AG claims that Entergy’s lawyers convinced the judge that the legislature was involved in nuclear safety assessments, but nothing could have been further from their minds.  Really?

To me, despite the new venue, the civility, and the new Commissioner, this panel was basically the same as all the previous panels. VSNAP is exactly where it was before the Federal court ruling: quizzing Entergy about safety and safety equipment. People on the panel also make it very clear that they don’t expect the NRC to adequately protect the public.

The state legislature cannot concern itself with nuclear safety, but the state can be an intervenor with the NRC. Maybe that is the point of the VSNAP meetings: helping the AG get ready for the next NRC intervention. Though one would expect such a panel to have a broader reach.

Who Discusses Safety

Many people inside and outside of the nuclear industry discuss safety. Everyone wants to be sure that safety changes prevent any recurrence of the events of Fukushima. People should talk about safety.

However, is nuclear safety the proper concern of a state advisory panel? I don’t think so. I think it is bizarre that elected state officials are quizzing Entergy about safety, and discussing the “inadequacies” of the NRC. To me, it’s like a time warp. It’s as if the court case never happened.

The fundamental issue remains the same. The Vermont legislature and its advisory bodies still seem to think that they, not the NRC, are in charge of nuclear safety.

References

A more complete description of the meeting is at Vermont Digger.

Howard Shaffer’s testimony at the December 11, 2011 VSNAP meeting.

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.

Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Some Big Changes in Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

Since the previous View from Vermont posted June 12, courts have issued several decisions that will have a major effect on nuclear power nationally, and on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in particular. The Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act has moved attention from these important federal court decisions, which otherwise would have received more publicity (outside of Vermont).

Three main rulings covered the following topics:

  • A lawsuit challenging the legality of the Vermont Yankee license extension issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • Refunding spent fuel storage costs nationally.
  • The “used fuel confidence” rule of the NRC.

Meanwhile, Vermont Yankee’s opponents staged another rally at the plant’s gates, with planned arrests.

And meanwhile, plant supporters continue to spread the positive message about Vermont Yankee and nuclear power.

The challenge to Vermont Yankee’s license

The State of Vermont and intervenors sued the NRC in federal court, claiming that the NRC issued Vermont Yankee’s 20-year license extension illegally. The plaintiffs asserted that the license extension was invalid because the plant has no valid water discharge permit.

The court of appeals dismissed the suit on procedural grounds. The court noted that there were six opportunities for the state to raise the issue during the licensing process. These opportunities were not used. The court said that all administrative avenues must be used before coming to the courts.

In other words, waiting until the license is issued, and then hoping the court will issue a “gotcha,” won’t work. Commentators expect that the Supreme Court would not accept a challenge to a circuit court decision on procedural grounds, when there is no disagreement between circuit courts and no larger issue involved:

Appeals court hands NRC a victory in Yankee license case

Miller

Commissioner Miller, chair of the Department of Public Service, argued the case:

State loses another legal round in Vt. Yankee relicensing

 

This decision was reported in the Valley News, our local paper, on the back of the front page, at the bottom. This area contains short, single paragraph articles of local interest. The Valley News does not support Vermont Yankee. If the plant had lost, it would have been a front-page story.

Yes Vermont Yankee has a great post about the ruling:

Vermont loses lawsuit against NRC about water quality permit

Used fuel storage cost refund

Vermont Yankee sued the federal government to recover the cost of storing used fuel on site. Other plants have filed similar suits. The plants claim that they have been forced into unnecessary costs because the federal government has not fulfilled its legal obligation to take custody of the fuel and remove it.

The court ruled for Vermont Yankee, and allowed almost all of the costs. What is of note in the Vermont Yankee case is that the state had put a special assessment on Vermont Yankee when the plant needed to build a concrete pad for dry cask storage. About this, the court said it would not be inappropriate to describe the high fee the state charged for construction of the concrete pad for storage of the dry casks for the used fuel as “blackmail”(!)

We will certainly hear more about “blackmail” in the fall election campaign. Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin, a committed opponent of the plant, is up for reelection at the end of his two-year term.

Waste confidence rule

A federal circuit court decision found that the NRC’s waste confidence rule is not valid, because the NRC did not provide an adequate environmental impact statement for long-term storage. This decision is for all plants, not just Vermont Yankee, and will not affect Vermont Yankee immediately. The plant already has its 20-year license extension, so there is no pending NRC license to be stayed. However, there has been editorial commentary based on this ruling, and we can expect opponents to bring this up during the State Public Service Board hearings on the required Certificate of Public Good next year.

The State Public Service Board

Under Vermont law, the Vermont Yankee plant requires a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board to operate. The original certificate expired on the same day as the expiration of the original NRC license.

The plant continues to operate under the original certificate because it had applied for a new one, and the proceedings are still in progress. The board had actually completed its proceedings several years ago, but was blocked from releasing them by a state senate vote that led to the Entergy v. Vermont lawsuit. The senate action was found illegal by the federal district court in January. The state has been enjoined by the court from acting to shut down the plant while the decision is appealed.

The board has set a schedule with proceedings finishing in August 2013, with their decision to follow. Entergy just filed a motion with the board suggesting the limits of the proceedings. Since the board cannot consider safety, or anything related to safety, or veiled attempts to imply safety, there is a real question about the proper scope of the proceedings. The board will hold a public hearing in Vernon, the plant’s hometown, in November.

The intervenors are expected to file their own opinions on the board’s proper scope. As a public radio reporter called it, intervenors are looking for any “hook” they can find to limit the plant’s power or shut it down. Vermont Yankee’s opponents are eying a requirement for year-round use of the existing cooling towers as a way of limiting the plant’s power. This was a partially successful tactic recently at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey.

Some things stay the same: The opponents

The various local opponents groups, banded together during the last year as the Safe and Green Alliance, have not slackened their efforts to keep the Vermont Yankee opposition story in the news. They staged a protest event on Sunday, July 1.

Among other proceedings, a large “Trojan Cow” (600 lbs) was unloaded at the plant’s gates. The event received lots of free publicity from several newspapers, as opponents have become very good at this. In the Brattleboro Reformer, a state trooper was quoted as saying that the state was doing “due diligence” to shut the plant down, but the troopers had to do their own due diligence and arrest the protesters:

Protesters arrested at Vermont Yankee gates

Capt. Ray Keefe of the Vermont State Police said that there’s been a long relationship with the organizers and various police agencies to ensure that things run smoothly.

Cow attacks Vermont nuke plant (video)

Meredith Angwin has a stinging commentary about the protest at Yes Vermont Yankee:

Vermont Yankee protest: low turnout and low intelligence

A regatta is planned for August 18, with the objective of publicizing the plant’s use of the river.

And the supporters

There is no slackening of effort on the part of the plant’s supporters. For example, opponents always refer to the plant’s emergency planning zone (EPZ) as the “evacuation zone.” In a recently published letter, Dick January, now on the plant engineering staff, described another “EBZ”: the economic benefit zone.

The Vermont Yankee economic benefit zone

Dick is a long-time activist, going back to our days at the Yankee Atomic nuclear power plant and the Massachusetts shutdown referendum. His letter nicely shows that the Vermont Yankee plant is a very big economic benefit to the surrounding tri-state communities.

In fact, according to a member of the local chamber of commerce, this was one of the original justifications for locating the plant where it is. This fact will undoubtedly be raised again by supporters during the upcoming Public Service Board proceedings for a Certificate of Public Good.

_____________________

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Facts and fears at NRC public review in Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

View from VermontVermont Yankee’s annual NRC performance review for the previous calendar year was held May 23, in Brattleboro Union High School, within 10 miles of the plant. In previous years, annual reports and state meetings have been held here, and in the Vernon Elementary School, across the road from the plant. The town of Vernon stopped hosting plant-related events due to behavior of some attendees.

This year’s meeting was in two parts. The first was set up like a science fair, with displays and the opportunity to move from one exhibit to another to talk individually with presenters. The second part of the meeting was held in the same room after the removal of displays, with a traditional setup of chairs for attendees, a table and chairs for NRC officials, and a moderator to manage a Q&A session. Events during this second part of the meeting were covered in “The Politics of Intimidation.”

An important display

BWR MK I Containment and Reactor Building, showing location of used fuel

One of the displays in the “science fair” part of the meeting was a cutaway model of Vermont Yankee’s reactor building. The model showed the fuel pool wall and liner depicted with clear plastic. In the pool were models of fuel assemblies, and the walls were blue to show the location of the water. This model clearly demonstrated that the fuel is several stories below the refueling floor, behind a thick outer wall, the thick pool wall, and pool liner. Obviously a great deal of work and expense had gone into this model. It seems to have been made to address one of the issues that “anti-nukes” continually raise against boiling water reactors with the MK I containment: an alleged vulnerability to aircraft attack by intentional collision.

An attempt to explain

As I approached the table with the model, a member of the public was examining it. Behind the table was the staff member assigned to explain it to the attendees. I joined the conversation. I mentioned my background as a startup engineer at the plant and pointed out that the fuel is behind very thick walls, as shown in the model. Also, the top of the pool is at the refueling floor level, and the water surface just below, as clearly shown in the model. It was pointed out an aircraft would not be a good “battering ram” against the reinforced concrete walls.

The reaction

Walking away with the member of the public  toward the next display, I continued to explain that the industry had carefully studied the effects of intentional large plane crashes into plants. The study found that the only parts of a large commercial jet of concern are the engines. The turbine shaft acts like a spear. The rest of the plane is only a little more than heavy duty aluminum foil, when a plane is used as a battering ram. The tragic crash at the Pentagon on 9/11 proved that.

Stopping, turning, and looking at me, I could see the fear in this person’s eyes as she said “I don’t buy it.”

Enhancing fear

During the second part of the meeting, nearly all the speakers were opposed to Vermont Yankee and nuclear power. Many statements and questions raised or reinforced fears.

One speaker listed all the core damaging accidents in the history of nuclear power, then said that the frequency was much more than had been predicted and “promised.” As I recall from hearing Professor Rassmussen describe the results of his work [WASH-1400 "Reactor Safety Study" (1975)], the frequency he stressed was for core damaging accidents resulting in releases to the public. Core damaging accidents not resulting in releases to the public would be expected to be more frequent. After the Three Mile Island accident he reviewed his report, and found that an accident like TMI was predicted to have already happened before then!

A calm request

Former State Representative Sarah Edwards, from Brattleboro, complemented the opponents for being there, and for being persistent. She said that she had visited Waterford, Yucca Mountain, WIPP, and Oak Ridge, and was on the Vermont State nuclear advisory panel; all while a member of the legislature. She asked that used fuel in the pool be moved to dry casks as soon as possible. Edwards said that she understood that used fuel had to stay in the pool for five years after being discharged form the reactor. As I understand it, this request could be fulfilled, once the Vermont Public Service Board modifies the plant’s Certificate of Public Good. Currently, the plant is approved only for dry cask storage sufficient to reach the end of the original 40-year license—which was this past March.

The future

On June 4, the State of Vermont filed an appeals brief in the US Second Court of Appeals, as expected. The consensus is that this case, Entergy v. Vermont, will go to the Supreme Court.

The Vermont Public Service Board is conducting an examination for a new Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee. There will be a public hearing in November in Vernon, the plant’s location.

End note

David Ropeik, former Boston environmental journalist and expert in risk communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, is well known to the American Nuclear Society’s Northeastern section, having spoken at and attending our meetings over the years. His recent article on “what controls what we think” is highly worthwhile reading. The feelings and behavior at the NRC’s May 23 meeting confirm his conclusions.

____________________________

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

The Vermont Yankee Follies Continue

By Howard Shaffer

Since March 22 of this year, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been operating via a 20-year license extension granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The State of Vermont has been barred from attempting to shut down the plant by federal court injunctions. Nonetheless, the follies surrounding the plant continue, with all stakeholders participating: the legal system, the legislature, plant supporters, and plant opponents.

The legal system

Entergy Vermont Yankee’s suit against the State of Vermont, which was found in Entergy’s favor, has been appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Briefs are due next month. This suit involves federal authority versus “States Rights.” It is generally expected that it will be appealed to the Supreme Court. That might mean a decision at the end of the court’s 2013–2014 term, in the spring of 2014.

The NRC has been sued for improperly issuing a license renewal to the Vermont Yankee plant, on the grounds that the NRC does not have a valid water quality permit from the state. Such permits are issued by states under federal law. The plant and the NRC maintain that they do have a valid permit: the one originally issued. The commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, a lawyer, argued the state’s case on May 9.

The Vermont Public Service Board (not to be confused with the Department of Public Service) that regulates state utilities has decided to start all over on Vermont Yankee’s application for a Certificate of Public Good. The board recently held a conference of the parties to get all the issues on the table. The conference also discussed the option of starting all over by opening a new docket, or scrubbing the existing docket of issues struck down by the court when it found in the plant’s favor. A new docket has been opened. A prehearing conference was held, and the board just issued the schedule for proceedings. There will be public hearings in November, followed by sessions with testimony, rebuttal etc. Final briefs will be due August 26, 2013. A decision would follow, and could take months.

Plant opponents held a rally at the plant offices, 10 miles from the plant, attended by more than 1000 people on the first day of the plant’s extended NRC license. Non-violence training had been held, and 130 protestors were arrested for trespassing. The state’s attorney for the county refused once again to take them to court, opting to not waste court time to provide the trespassers with a forum. The rally and arrests provided plenty of media coverage.

A small group of grandmothers was again in court for blocking the plant’s gate. They acted the day after hurricane Irene did major damage in the state, while first responders were busy. Their action on that day was not popular. Their case was scheduled for trial later. It will be interesting to see what happens. (The “Grannies” have claimed that radiation permanently damages the gene pool, a discredited and dangerous argument from the early Eugenics movement—see Yes Vermont Yankee articles here and here.)

Anti-nuke grannies

 

 

 

 

The legislature

Vermont’s citizen legislature recently adjourned after its annual four-month session. The legislature passed a new tax on Vermont Yankee to make up for revenue lost when agreements based on plant purchase and used fuel storage expired. The agreements ended when the state’s Certificate of Public Good (CPG) expired on the same day as the original NRC license. Under state law, an expired CPG remains in effect if renewal proceedings are in progress, which they are. Commentators were quick to point out that the legislature and governor may not like Vermont Yankee, but they don’t mind the revenue it provides them.

The governor has been lampooned for his comments on the legislature’s action on a proposed merger of two electric utilities in the state. One of the utilities was in financial difficulty some years ago, and it was allowed to raise rates to be bailed out. A provision of the agreement was that if the utility were ever sold, the ratepayers and stockholders would be refunded the bailout money.

Now it is proposed to sell the utility for the merger, and the ratepayers are expecting checks for their refunds. The utilities suggest “refunding” the money in the form of energy and money saving investments, claiming that the ratepayers will ultimately save much more than they would gain from direct cash. Many are angry, and the AARP organization has run ads blasting the “non-refund.”

The legislature proposed a bill to order the Public Service Board to require a direct cash refund as part of the merger agreement, which they are reviewing and must approve. The governor wrote to the legislature saying that they should not interfere with the board, because it is the legal body that oversees utilities. Many quickly pointed out that interfering with the board was precisely what the legislature did during Vermont Yankee’s CPG renewal, which led to the federal lawsuit. The governor never objected to that (Yes Vermont Yankee has the details.)

Vermont Yankee’s supporters

We continue our public outreach at every opportunity. Meredith Angwin’s “Yes Vermont Yankee” blog and our “Save Vermont Yankee” Facebook page keep on inspiring supporters.

On April 28, there was a book signing in Keene, N.H., with the author of “Public Meltdown,” Prof. Richard Watts from the University of Vermont. Cheryl Twaorg, whose husband is a senior reactor operator at the Vermont Yankee plant, and Richard Schmidt were there. No opponents showed up, which was surprising, since Antioch New England University, a hotbed of opposition, is in Keene.

Richard Schmidt was on a two-hour radio panel with Meredith Angwin in North Hampton, Mass. The topic was the Vermont Yankee power struggle.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) David Lochbaum appeared at two Massachusetts events on successive nights. The first night was at Plymouth on a panel sponsored by the Freeze Pilgrim group (that is, Freeze relicensing until all Fukushima fixes are done). Russell Gocht, a graduate student at UMass Lowell, represented nuclear power and plant supporters (American Nuclear Society Northeastern Section member Chuck Adey had lined him up at a recent section meeting). The next night, UCS had a panel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nuclear supporters and students attended. Steve Stamm provided a report. We had encouraged attendance at these events by providing notification and details.

Our flow of letters to newspapers hasn’t stopped. There are continually issues on the whole spectrum of energy policy and technology that provide a springboard for comment.

Vermont Yankee’s opponents

Plant opponents have not “laid down their sword and shields” either. The Fukushima tragedy has provided grist for them to keep up the attack on the MK I containment design, and bring back an old German study on childhood leukemia around nuclear power plants. A letter promoting the study appeared in the Valley News, and another supporter and I had rebuttals published.

The Vermont Yankee opponents and anti-nuclear groups have allied with the Occupy movement. They held a rally where 130 people were arrested. A nuclear supporter took a picture of a sign showing the linkage. No picture of this sign appeared in the media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

 

Tape review of Vermont Yankee power struggle debate

By Rod Adams

One of my college roommates served for a while as the manager of our football team; we would talk about the “tape review” sessions that were used by the team to evaluate past performance and to prepare for future opponents. Nuclear organizations, for their part, often have highly developed “lessons learned” programs and they practice the use of technical methods that have been successfully employed by other organizations.

In that spirit, I would like to offer a “tape review” of the recent radio debate “Vermont Yankee: Power Struggle” that Meredith Angwin wrote about so beautifully for ANS Nuclear Cafe under the title of Be Here Now and The Debate.

My intent is not criticism—Richard Schmidt and Meredith both did a great job and already scored a win for the pronuclear team. My goal is to contribute to continuous improvement, help our team get ready for the next time, and build confidence for anyone else who gets an opportunity to publicly engage on the topic of nuclear energy.

The “here and now” philosophy that Meredith wrote about is important. People need to recognize and deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. We should challenge our opponents to base their decisions on what IS, not what is dreamed about. Balance is also important, naturally, since if everyone always thinks of only here and now, the future for our children will be pretty grim.

The predictable

We can make reasonable attempts to predict and influence the future so that it is closer to what we want. We can, for example, predict exactly when the sun will set every day. We can also predict its elevation angle based on time of day, day of year, and elevation. With those predictable numbers, we can chart the maximum power available to collect at any given time—while factors like clouds, snow, and shade from neighboring trees reduce the amount available.

During a debate, a good prop for that statement is an old celestial navigation book with a sun table in it. You can pick one up on the web or at a used book store. A few ancient implements that were used to measure the sun’s travel—perhaps a sextant or a sundial—might also help to illustrate just how much understanding mankind has had about the sun’s behavior and how long we have collectively owned that understanding.

Predictable nuclear

Unlike the scheduled operation of a coal, oil, gas, or nuclear plant, we usually have no real way to predict when and where the wind will blow or for how long. While we know how much it costs to run power cables from one point to another, we do not know specifically whose backyard will host those cables, along with the necessary towers and clear cut corridors, if we want to use someone else’s wind to back up our own.

In contrast, we can predict, based on demonstrated history, that completed nuclear plants can run for at least 50 years (the USS Enterprise recently celebrated its 50th birthday), and probably for 60-80 years. We know how much nuclear fuel has cost in the past and can do a pretty fair job of predicting the cost in the future. We also know that used nuclear fuel still contains 95 percent of its initial energy, and we know how to capture at least some of that energy through recycling. We have no way of knowing what natural gas prices will be in two years.

Walden Pond

During the debate, Richard did a good job in declaring that coal is the alternative in the world in which he lives and works; and in his next opportunity in a public forum, he should use his own experience with a solar energy system to concisely explain why solar can NEVER replace either coal or nuclear NO MATTER WHAT engineering improvements are made. It is perhaps even better to stress that point about solar than the true statement concerning coal and the way things work now. Alternatively, another possible response would be to allow an opponent like Michael Daley to attempt to win supporters (for pronuclear!) by describing—in detail—exactly what it means to live in a “100 watt house”.

Aside: I have visited Michael’s 100 Watt home website. I wonder if Michael and his wife actually live in the 100 watt cabin, or if it is just a writing retreat. His website describes it thusly: “Michael writes his books in a five foot by five foot tower room on a solar-powered laptop computer. He lives in Westminster, Vermont with his wife, award-winning children’s author Jessie Haas.” However, the solar cabin is in Putney, about five miles away from Westminster. End aside.

The Walden Pond–style of simple living might appeal to some, but most Americans would immediately see that day-to-day living in a space that is 12 feet by 16 feet is not quite their idea of the American dream. That is especially true if living there means constantly monitoring the charge level on the battery system and the fuel state of a noisy generator. In a debate environment, there is nothing wrong with letting the opposition try to sell their vision—especially if it is one that is not all that attractive.

Economics

Another topic in the debate where Richard and Meredith could turn the opposition’s assumed strengths into a negative for the audience is in the economic area. Michael Daley stated on several occasions that his reason for opposing Vermont Yankee was that Entergy would not agree to give Vermont a discounted rate on electricity. The details there are important; Entergy had been selling power to Vermont for 4 cents per kilowatt hour and wanted to start selling at a market determined rate. It was willing to sign a long-term contract for 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

Compared to the 20 cents per kilowatt-hour that Vermont power companies pay for unreliable wind and solar electricity, 6 cents per kilowatt hour is a huge discount. Armed with numbers and hard copy charts (if prepared carefully in advance), nuclear power supporters should always be willing to talk about economic comparisons with renewable energy advocates.

I’ll now turn the microphone over to others who might have had a chance to listen to the debate. What else should we learn from this engagement? What other facts should we be ready to introduce, what appeals to emotion should we use in addition to appeals to reason, and how should we respond when challenged that “we do not know” what might happen in the future—if in reality the topic under discussion is rather predictable for those who have already done the study and calculation?

__________________________

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

The Nuclear Debate On the Road

By Howard Shaffer

Plymouth, Massachusetts, “America’s Home Town,” is the place where the pilgrims landed, and is also the home of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant. On March 29, a forum was held in Plymouth to discuss a non-binding ballot question for the town election in May. The question is whether or not to freeze the plant’s relicensing process until all the Fukushima fixes are completed.

The political setting

The town of Plymouth has a Nuclear Matters Committee (NMC), which keeps informed on plant issues and advises the town’s Selectboard. In New England, towns are governed by the town meeting, where all voters who wish can convene to become the town legislature. The executive is a group chosen by the voters, now called the Selectboard. Many towns now also have a town manager reporting to the Selectboard.

Massachusetts is known as a very liberal state, and proud of this tradition. In the 1988 election, a referendum required shutting down both nuclear power plants in the state—Pilgrim and the Yankee Rowe nuclear power station. This referendum was defeated, thanks to 2 to 1 and 3 to 1 voting margins in the towns along Massachusetts’ high tech beltway I-495 (how this was done is a story for another time).

There is a virulent anti-nuclear movement in the Plymouth area, spearheaded by an individual from the nearby town of Duxbury. This person is able to be an intervener, and has filed numerous motions in Pilgrim’s relicensing. She is expected to continue to file motions in hopes of delaying relicensing (the plant’s 40-year license expires in June). The law for all federal regulatory agencies, however, provides for continued operation of the plant if an agency has not completed action on an application for extension/renewal filed more than five years beforehand.

Arranging the forum

The Plymouth NMC arranged a forum to discuss the ballot question. It wanted to have both the “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” positions represented. The obvious underlying issues were nuclear power itself, and the Fukushima–Daiichi accident’s effect on the Pilgrim boiling water reactor with Mark I containment. To speak in favor of “Yes,” the committee obtained Arnie Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates, Burlington, Vt. To speak in favor of “No” it first contacted Professor Gil Brown of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Gil is a long-time American Nuclear Society and ANS Northeastern Section member. However, he is on sabbatical and working at the State Department, and could not make their date. Gil called me and put me in touch with the panel organizer. When Arnie found out that I was to be on the panel, he said that he would withdraw! But eventually he changed his mind (this made an interesting lead-up story in the local paper).

Then the chair of the NMC took over organizing and moderating the forum. Entergy, the plant’s owner, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose Region I staff were in the same room up to a half hour before the forum for their annual plant review meeting, could not participate (this article covers both events).

Before the forum we had a briefing with Jack Alexander, who does the Pilgrim public outreach; Paul Smith, retired Pilgrim staff and now consulting; and Chuck Adey, now retired and living in Plymouth, who has worked at the plant, done public outreach, and is an ANS Northeastern Section member.

 

The forum

The forum was held in the Selectboard meeting room in the town hall. This was formerly the high school, so the meeting room was originally a large classroom or small assembly hall. The NRC’s public meeting to report to the public on the plant’s prior year performance was held in half the room. Its meeting was informal and reception style, with no formal presentation. There were tables with displays, and Region I staff circulating to talk with attendees.

After the NRC meeting, the accordion wall dividing the room was folded, and chairs set up. The Selectboard members table was at one end of the room, on the floor with the audience, with microphones. The room had built-in TV cameras. The local public access station (PAC-TV) recorded for rebroadcast and on-demand viewing. A local radio station broadcast the program live, which necessitated one commercial break. A local newspaper had on-line coverage with a twitter stream, including many comments from Japan. Documentarian Robbie Leppzer had his camera set up in front of the first row of chairs, which unfortunately blocked my view of some of the audience. Meredith Angwin provided next day coverage at Yes Vermont Yankee.

There was standing room only. The members of the NMC were in the first row. The first several rows were filled with plant opponents. The moderator announced the program, and we began by introducing ourselves for 45 seconds, followed by our 20-minute presentations (see my presentation and the ANS report on Fukushima). Questions and answers followed for the balance of the two hours. The moderator, Jeff Berger, maintained strict control, including telling a person who raised a sign saying, “No Dose is Safe” that it was not permitted. The NMC members, now with a majority of technically oriented citizens, including Paul Smith who was on the plant staff and is still consulting, were given preference in asking questions. (The committee had recommended that the Selectboard not put the question on the ballot.) Then citizens of Plymouth were called, and when there seemed to be no more questions from them, people from other towns were called.

The content

The two-hour recording of the forum from PAC-TV Plymouth can be seen on demand.

My presentation and answers put the question of nuclear power in the context of a national policy to replace coal and its adverse health effects. I discussed the Fukushima-Daiichi accident and history of the Mark I containment as part of the development and learning process common to all technologies.

For his part, Arnie Gundersen continued his relentless attack on the Mark I Containment, saying it is too small, can’t contain, and must be vented. He dragged out references to Stephen Hanauer’s 1972 memo and other staff statements referring to Mark I as having serious problems. Additional claims by Gundersen:

  • A reactor produces 5-percent decay heat, which doesn’t stop.
  • NRC commissioners are vetted by the Nuclear Energy Institute. The NRC is cozy with the industry.
  • NRC Chairman Jaczko has said that people will have to be restricted from evacuation zones forever.
  • Fukushima will result in a million cases of cancer over 30 years.
  • Service water systems are vulnerable to sabotage, so reactors could lose all cooling. Gundersen referred to an incident in the recent past where a foreign sailboat got inside the buoy line around the plant’s intake.
  • The Chernobyl accident resulted in the demise of the Soviet Union, per Mr. Gorbechev.
  • Moving as much used fuel as possible to dry casks is important for safety.
  • The NRC is now concerned with drone attacks on a plant.

Most questions from the audience were also along the lines of these statements.

Members of the NMC and a few others did raise cogent points and dispute some of the statements made by Gundersen and others.

Aftermath

The local newspapers reported the forum, but the Boston newspapers and TV did not. Jack Alexander took this as a good sign, observing that these media specialize in only negative stories about the plant.

Supporters were satisfied that their position had been defended.

_____________________

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Celebrating at Vermont Yankee: A successful rally on St Patrick’s Day

By Meredith Angwin

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s original Nuclear Regulatory Commission license expired on March 21, 2012 . The NRC, however, has renewed the license for another 20 years, and a recent court ruling will almost certainly allow the plant to operate for many more years. The American Nuclear Society’s Vermont Pilot Project (headed by Howard Shaffer) and the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute (headed by me) thought it was time to celebrate! So, we held a rally on St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, to celebrate the court ruling and 20 more years of Green Power.

Howard organized the rally to take place outside the plant gates at shift change. More than 80 people attended, including people of all ages and from all over the state. It was our largest rally so far! Howard bought some St. Patrick’s Day hats, and he encouraged people to make their own signs for the rally. Some examples:  “Only 7300 more days” and “Green and Clean.” Two local papers covered the rally, a major TV station put it on the evening news, and two radio shows interviewed me and ran announcements. Rally attendees and plant staff were all very happy with the results. Look at the faces in the pictures (at bottom). We were getting “thank you” emails from people for days! You can see more pictures and a short video on my blog post at Yes Vermont Yankee. We are grateful that Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s operator, allowed us to assemble on plant property just outside the main gates, and also for providing refreshments.

Carla Heath, Vermont Yankee employee

Opponent rallies

Nuclear opponents considered March 21 to be a very significant day, and planned all sorts of activities around it. They held out hope that the state’s Public Service Board would come up with some reason to shut the plant down. Instead, another federal court injunction intervened.

One of the first of these events was the arrival on March 21 of a group of Buddhist monks at the power plant in Vernon. These monks started their anti-nuclear walk at Oyster Creek, and ended it at Vermont Yankee. (If you look at their itinerary, you can see that they did not actually walk the whole way.)

O'Donnell, Merkle, and monk from Grafton Peace Pagoda, NY

As the monks walked past Vernon, two plant supporters arranged to have their picture taken with one of the monks and a pro-Vermont Yankee sign. (Yes, the monk does look a little puzzled. Or perhaps he’s meditating.) The two women in the picture are Patty O’Donnell, former state representative from the town of Vernon and current Selectboard chair, and Ellen Merkle, married to a Vermont Yankee employee.

The big opponent rally

That picture set the stage for the next day. Plant supporters were not confrontational, but they were not hiding in the closet, either.

On March 22, 1300 people came to Brattleboro to protest the plant. They wore different hats indicating their “affinity groups,” and stilt-walkers and persons with megaphones accompanied them. Some demonstrators had taken the kind of training they needed in order to be arrested. (The protest organizers had said that only people who had taken non-violence training could volunteer to be arrested.) Over 100  protestors were arrested. Though the protest was peaceful, the town of Brattleboro was mostly shut down for several hours. This was much to the annoyance of many people who live and work in the town.

Once again, however, supporters were not intimidated by the numbers of opponents. Gwen Shaculmis, a lawyer, sat on the lawn of her building, surrounded by VY4VT signs, while the protestors began their rally across the street. She was interviewed several times in the local papers and on TV. As Alan Panebaker of Vermont Digger wrote:

While the protesters made noise and created a spectacle, subtle signs lined many lawns in Brattleboro supporting the plant, which provides 650 jobs directly and around 1,000 including contractors.

And a few groups held signs saying “VY 4 VT” as the parade marched by.

Gwen Shaclumis, an attorney from Brattleboro, stood across the street from
the common while the protest ramped up.

Shaclumis said opponents of the plant neglect the fact that it is a crucial part of the regional economy.

You can see a video of the protestors and Ms. Shaclumis here.

The meaning of it all

What did we hope to accomplish? What did they hope to accomplish?

We hoped to do two things in our rally. First, we wanted to give plant personnel a chance to celebrate and be glad about the court ruling, and to know they have supporters.

Second, we wanted to encourage other supporters, just by being there, by being on TV, by having press releases about the rally in local papers. The message here:  If we can speak up in favor of nuclear energy, so can other supporters. Howard and I do not take credit for the actions of other supporters. EVERYONE’s actions were part of a tapestry of pro-nuclear people who decided to be visible.

Did our rally achieve these two goals? Yes.

Did the opponent rally work? It undoubtedly encouraged the people at the rally. But I personally think that the whole stilt-walker, masks, funny hats business doesn’t convince anyone who is not convinced already. I don’t think that undecided people, watching on TV, would want to join the opponents’ rally. Street Theater is a tired old concept.  It’s so…so… ’60s, perhaps?

In my opinion, the last few days in Brattleboro were a major step away from the customary silence of pro-nuclear people. Many pro-nuclear people were there; many people chose to be visible. We all encouraged each other to make a difference.

Fran Gerard, local Vermont Yankee supporter

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Cam Twarog for wide-angle picture

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Cummings, VY engineer, Howard Shaffer, Kenyon Webber, VY engineer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.

Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.