The nuclear option
February 24, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

The Vermont state legislature voted today to close Vermont Yankee, the Green Mountain State's own nuclear power plant.
posted by vortex genie 2 (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Good !
posted by ahimsakid at 2:29 PM on February 24, 2010


Now that Entergy's been DENIED, would it be possible for another nuclear energy company to come in and take over the infrastructure, rather than shutting the plant down entirely?
posted by Greg Nog at 2:32 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy crap. One of my electric companies, Washington Electric Coop, has been following this issue closely and their latest newsletter brought in a bunch of experts to talk about VY. WEC hasn't even been buying any power from VY for quite some time but they'd still be liable for the anticipated shutdown and clean-up costs if they exceeded anticipated costs. Carl Eitner's blog has some more day by day timeline stuff. Here's a link [pdf] to WEC's letter to the VT Legislature recommending they not authorize continued operation of Vermont Yankee.

Just in case people didn't read the articles, the reason this went to the legislature is that the plant's license currently goes to 2012 and they were seeking an extension. That extension needs to come from the legislature. Vermont has a part time legislature and this has been a really been project for them. Most of the news coming from VY lately has been sketchy and not confidence building. I think the legislature did the right thing.
posted by jessamyn at 2:33 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It was just the Senate. I don't know if the Leg needs to vote as well.
More local (pre-vote) coverage.
posted by MtDewd at 2:34 PM on February 24, 2010


In an unusual state foray into nuclear regulation, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 Wednesday to block a license extension for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, citing radioactive leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials and other problems...The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, which normally calls the shots on plant safety issues, has been poised to give the plant another 20 years.

There is simply no legitimate federal regulatory regime in place to ensure plant and local safety. Good on Vermont to stand up and say so.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:35 PM on February 24, 2010


Both houses have to approve it. Unless the Senate reverses itself, that's not going to happen.
posted by jessamyn at 2:35 PM on February 24, 2010


Dammit, Entergy really pisses me off. It is so incredibly possible to run a nuclear power plant correctly, and this was not the way. I wish we would hire the French to come and build our nuclear power plants. I don't blame Vermonters for closing the plant. I blame them for hiring a Entergy to build it in the first place! Freaking knuckleheads.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:38 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Entergy bought the plant in 2002 and then ran it into the ground, we didn't hire them at all.
posted by jessamyn at 2:39 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


So would anyone familiar with the scene be able to give any information on how likely this is to affect other nuclear projects, either in Vermont / Northeast / America? The Times article and most of the comments here seem to indicate it's getting banned because of the plant's safety issues, which are not necessarily representative of the industry.

But how much damage is this likely to do to the nuclear cause in general?

Not that it matters - certainly I can't desire a dangerous plant to be operating just to keep nuclear power 'safe' in the minds of people - I'm just curious.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:56 PM on February 24, 2010


VT Yankee supplies power to 3/4 of Vermont. Where is 3/4 of Vermont going to get electricity once the nuke shuts down? A carbon-spewing gas or oil plant?

This is a purely human failure and I think this is the absolute wrong way to go about fixing it.
posted by Camofrog at 3:01 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Vermont Yankee's website is at SafeCleanReliable.com incidentally. I don't see any news of this here yet. Right now tritium is leaking and they don't know exactly how or where. This is bad news for them from a PR perspective. You can read more about the ongoing tritium cleanup [continuing even in a snowstorm today] on the VT Dept. of Health website. I think a lot of people who might otherwise be advocates of nuclear power are sour on VT Yankee because Entergy have been such a slimy bunch of people to deal with. The odd deal in which the legislature has to approve the license extension is unlikely to come up in any other power plant relicensing.
posted by jessamyn at 3:03 PM on February 24, 2010


Both houses have to approve it.
So they didn't vote to close it, they voted against keeping it open past 2012?

I see the Senate bill(PDF), but I don't see a corresponding House bill.
posted by MtDewd at 3:03 PM on February 24, 2010


There is simply no legitimate federal regulatory regime in place to ensure plant and local safety. Good on Vermont to stand up and say so.

Actually, there is and it's called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

From what I understand, Vermont did something unique by entering into a contract with Entergy a few years back that allowed the state to deny renewal of Vermont Yankee's license. From what I understand no other state has reserved this provision with a nuclear plant owner. In the end it's a contractual, rather than nuclear regulatory decision.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:14 PM on February 24, 2010


Actually, there is and it's called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Reading the quote, the NRC was about to give a 20 year license extension to Entergy, despite radioactive leaks, report aberrations and "other problems". Doesn't sound like a legitimate regulatory agency, that gives operational licenses to companies that do that sort of thing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:19 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, now where are the old ladies going to go for their scented candles?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:25 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


VT Yankee supplies power to 3/4 of Vermont.

There's actually a lot of tricky math going on in the wording of what VT Yankee does or does not supply. VY quotes the 75% figure. Most sources that I've read that seem reliable [i.e. news organizations not VY or anti-VY people] say that VT Yankee supplies about one third of the power that Vermont uses. It also supplies a lot of power to neighboring New York, so its output is about double what Vermont gets. The plant has been operating at 120% capacity and wanted to continue to do so. Its electricity was quite cheap.

The amount of power VY produces is also a small amount of the power on the general New England Grid though I'm not sure who else is producing nuclear power in the area. Here's what the New England power grid is using, again it's looking like almost 30% nuclear in 2009. I'm having a hard time finding out specifics but here's all the prefiled testimony about the relicensing.
posted by jessamyn at 3:36 PM on February 24, 2010


In full disclosure, I worked on ETR's spin-off of its un-regulated nuke assets in my last job. I worked for a third party with no vested interest in the deal closing or not.

Some possible effects of this decision: ETR is unable to spin-off its nuke assets because this decision has made investors shy (at a time when most institutional investors already are); ETR is able to spin-off its assets, save Vermont Yankee; NY gets scared because of VT's decision and fails to renew the licenses on the 2 (or 3?) plants up for renewal (which would also kill the spin-off).

As a practical matter, decommissioning Vermont Yankee will lead to a material, lasting increase in power prices for the NE as more costly (and likely more environmentally harmful) resources come on line. If that happens, it might be a good time to grab NRG stock since they own lots of dirty plants in the NE that would likely have to start-up to meet the decrease in supply.

I think it's unlikely in the end that Vermont Yankee gets shuttered. ETR will pay, or sell the asset to someone who will pay, to get the plant in ship-shape so it can keep running and produce remarkably cheap power. The current administration seems inclined to count nuke as a renewable resource of sorts.
posted by jchilib at 3:38 PM on February 24, 2010


It's really not surprising that the old plants like VT Yankee are starting to wear out and leak--they were designed to last for 40 years, which is how long their original licenses from the NRC last. Ideally, they would be retired and replaced with new generation sources, including new nuclear. But new nuclear plants and the infrastructure to build them in the U.S. just aren't ready, and there really isn't any other source of power besides fossil fuels that can provide so much power in one place at this point. So we've got the dilemma of keeping the old plants running or scrapping them and scrambling to replace the extremely large amount of power each plant supplies.
posted by inara at 4:14 PM on February 24, 2010


Reading the quote, the NRC was about to give a 20 year license extension to Entergy, despite radioactive leaks, report aberrations and "other problems". Doesn't sound like a legitimate regulatory agency, that gives operational licenses to companies that do that sort of thing.

This is pretty much the lamest criticism of the NRC. Yes, nuclear power plants experience problems, which the plant owners are required to report to the NRC and the NRC is required to investigate. The NRC and the plant the develop the corrective action, which when applied, should alleviate the problem. In the event that the plant does not report what it should to NRC, the commission investigates that too. That process is on-going with respect to Vermont Yankee, just like it should. We'll see what happens as a result. And remember, just because the NRC renewed the plant's license doesn't mean that they can't revoke it at any time they want.

I don't see how this makes the NRC not a "legitimate federal regulatory regime". I'm not sure what you want them to do, other than close plants left and right as soon as any problems develop. I mean, it's a bloody tritium leak. It's not a good thing, but it's by no means a disaster. If the FAA was run like you seem to want the NRC to run, we wouldn't have any airlines left.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:20 PM on February 24, 2010


Seriously, why not invite Electricité de France to buy the plant?
posted by 1adam12 at 5:38 PM on February 24, 2010


As a practical matter, decommissioning Vermont Yankee will lead to a material, lasting increase in power prices for the NE as more costly (and likely more environmentally harmful) resources come on line.

Such was the case when the Swedish government decided to close Barsebäck plant near Malmö, removing 3,6tW from the grid.

As was seen during a previous 5-month shutdown, the electricity short-fall was made up through greater use of hydropower from northern Sweden and fossil fuel plants in southern Sweden and Denmark. Over this period, southern Sweden experienced a 10% increase in SO2 and NOX emissions causing increased acid rain.

In addition to acidic and greenhouse gases coming from the coal-fired plants in Denmark, Swedis soil also benefits from the fallout of "at least 73 elements found in coal-fired plant emissions.. including: aluminium, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, boron, cadmium, calcium, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iron, lead, magnesium, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, silver, sulfur, titanium, uranium, vanadium, and zinc.

Paradoxically, Sweden also now benefits from an increased amount radiation from thorium-232 (232Th) and uranium-238 (238U) which are released as exhaust products in coal ash.

So in Sweden we now have higher prices for energy (in a country where many homes are heated with electricity), greater dependence on coal-fired energy sources, and all kinds of new pollution that comes with it.

Win-win-win.
posted by three blind mice at 6:06 PM on February 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


kiltedtaco, I agree 100%, and I think the plant should get an upgrade, not a burial.

The problem is not so much an aging plant as the weasels who are running the place. And I wonder if the NRC inspects that thing as often as it should; it seems like it keeps getting surprised by stuff it should have known about.

But I'd still much rather have a nuke in the neighborhood than anything else on its scale.
posted by Camofrog at 7:59 PM on February 24, 2010


would it be possible for another nuclear energy company to come in and take over the infrastructure?

Seriously, why not invite Electricité de France to buy the plant?

I'm not sure they'd want it. There's a reality here in that nuclear plants from the 1970s were designed to operate, under optimal conditions, for 40 years. Which is now. And their mileage may vary, according to the delightfully named Mr. Wack in an NYT article from last October titled The Dilemma of Aging Nuclear Plants:

"The 40-year life span was a design specification,” said Guillaume Wack, director for nuclear plants at the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, or A.S.N., the French nuclear regulator.

“It’s like a car,” Mr. Wack said in an interview. “The manufacturer says it will run for 100,000 kilometers” — 60,000 miles — “and last two years. That’s the theoretical life. After that, it depends on how you run it. If you drive carefully with regular checkups, it could last much longer. If you drive recklessly and don’t maintain it, it will wear out more quickly.”

Vermont Yankee literally is falling apart, and to let it run for another 20 years in poor condition seems to be a pretty bad idea. (Just like you might not jump at the chance to head out on the highway at 70 mph in a 1973 Dodge Dart with bad brakes and worn shocks.) Also, of course, unlike the unsafe bridge on the other side of VT that got demolished in seconds last December, a nuclear power plant takes decades (up to 60 years) to decommission. So you're really talking about VT Yankee continuing to crumble and leak for up to 80 more years.

[Incidentally, the owners of Three Mile Island Unit 2, about 14 miles from where I grew up, still haven't even started to decommission it, despite the fact that it broke down over 30 years ago.)

they'd still be liable for the anticipated shutdown and clean-up costs if they exceeded anticipated costs...

I would be amazed if any nuclear power plant anywhere ever was cleaned up and the process did not exceed anticipated costs. I think the VT legislature is starting to worry about this as well, especially since VT Yankee is one of the 18 nuclear power plants cited last summer by the NRC whose owners might not have enough money to cover even normal clean-up costs.

* * *

The VT weekly Seven Days had a series of articles in last week's issue about various aspects of the VT Yankee situation. Most interesting to me was a piece about the residents of NH and MA — despite its name, VT Yankee is barely in the state; it's way down at the bottom right tip, much closer to Manchester and Boston than Montpelier.

from the article: "A bill in Congress, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)... would grant the governor of a neighboring state within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant the right to demand a full, independent safety assessment of a facility prior to its relicensure.

Govs. John Lynch of New Hampshire and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts aren’t waiting for Bernie’s legislation. In separate letters last week to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, both Democrats urged the feds to intensify their probe into VY’s tritium leak and to slow down their review of VY’s relicensure application."
posted by LeLiLo at 8:56 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]




...a nuclear power plant takes decades (up to 60 years) to decommission.

Well, that other Yankee nuclear plant took 15 years to completely decommission.

It's worth noting that another big New England nuclear plant, Pilgrim Station, is currently owned and operated by Entergy. It will be 40 years old in 2012, and its license will expire then. The VT Yankee situation has prompted MA Governor Deval Patrick to request a federal investigation into whether a similar problem may be occurring at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:10 AM on February 25, 2010


ETR is heavily incented to get the problems at Vermont Yankee fixed and get the permit sorted out as would EDF or another owner. It’s the economics: the cost of power from a nuke plant is roughly $.02 to $.03/KWh in a region where market prices are at $.05 to $.06/KWh. I remember modeling the cash flows from this plant based on the hedge price and then on the market price beyond the end of the hedge and the plant was worth a boatload of money, enough to justify spending some major dollars fixing the leak and repairing whatever else the NRC tells it to.
posted by jchilib at 8:23 AM on February 25, 2010


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