Vermont Yankee Unveils Plans to Refuel

By Anna Stevens


On Wednesday Feb. 20 Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant released a statement saying that it will be conducting its 30th refueling since its opening in 1972. The refueling will happen this spring and require the plant to shut down for several weeks.

“[The refueling process] is basically a maintenance overhaul,” said Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams. “Almost every system gets some form of maintenance and/or testing inspection.”

Nuclear reactors are refueled every 18 months, during which time about 1/3 of the fuel assemblies are replaced. It is a necessary measure taken to ensure that the plant has up-to-date technology and is inspected thoroughly. Additionally the refueling guarantees that the plant is able to operate for another 18 months.

Entergy’s news about refueling Vermont Yankee shows their commitment to keeping the plant in full operation.

“This is a major business decision for [Entergy],” said Vermont State Representative Margaret Cheney from Norwich. “It shows that they expect to prevail in their various court battles.”

Over the past year Entergy has been caught up in many legal battles both at the state and federal levels regarding the relicensing of the plant. Vermont Yankee was scheduled to close in March 2012, but before its closure it was granted a renewal on its license from the Nuclear Regulatory Committee, enabling it to run for an additional 20 years. Despite being granted this license, the state of Vermont requires Entergy to have a state permit — a certificate of public good (CPG) — in order to run. The Vermont state legislature blocked the state Public Service Board from granting the CPG on account of concerns about the age of the building and its ability to operate safely.

When Vermont Yankee was opened in 1972 it received a 40-year operating license. In the past decade the plant has shown signs of deterioration as leaking problems have concerned health officials about contamination of groundwater and the nearby Connecticut River. Furthermore there has been concern surrounding Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel storage. With the spent fuel pool nearing capacity in 2012, Entergy applied for — and was granted —  a permit for dry-cask storage of spent fuel on site. Presently, close to all of Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel is stored on site, either in the spent-fuel pool or  dry-cask storage.

Concerns about the storage of nuclear waste and the age of the power plant moved residents of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to protest the renewal of Vermont Yankee’s license. In March 2012 over 1,000 protesters marched the 3.5 miles from Brattleboro, Vt. to the Entergy offices, brandishing signs and flags. Residents were not the only people unsettled by Vermont Yankee’s plan to remain open.

In addition to the various legal issues facing Entergy, the company has also struggled financially. On Feb. 14 UBS Securities downgraded Entergy stock from “neutral” to “sell,” alerting stockholders that Entergy was struggling financially.

“The change was primarily predicated on potential cuts to authorize returns on [Entergy’s] southeast utility businesses,” said Julien Dumoulin-Smith, director of UBS Securities Investment Research. “It was also in part due to our growing concerns around its nuclear portfolio, particularly given our expectation for negative cash flows from the Vermont Yankee plant.”

Many residents in the state speculate as to how Vermont would get its power if Vermont Yankee closed, but what most do not realize is that Vermont Yankee only sells out of state.

“Vermont would not fall on its face if it did not get power from Vermont Yankee,” said Cheney. “In fact, we have not been getting power from them since March 2012 when its contract expired. So for a year we have been getting power from other resources.”

Regardless of these speculations regarding the future of Vermont Yankee and the various legal and financial setbacks Entergy is facing, the company remains committed to keeping Vermont Yankee operating at full capacity.

“Short-term gas prices in the electric market are challenging for us and other merchant nuclear plants,” said Williams, Entergy’s spokesman. “We are continuing to operate our plants as efficiently as possible, and are diligent about looking at every aspect off their operation, while at the same time maintaining the safety and integrity of each facility.”

The future of Vermont Yankee remains undetermined, but at least in the short term it will remain running, much to the concern of the local populace.

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