MONTPELIER — The state of Vermont is ramping up its fight with Entergy Nuclear over Vermont Yankee’s shrinking $600 million decommissioning trust fund.
The attorney general’s office, along with the Department of Public Service, filed a petition last week with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, asking for a federal “comprehensive review” into how Entergy is spending the fund, which was $675 million a year ago. Yankee shut down Dec. 29, 2014, and Entergy has made regular withdrawals since then.
Entergy estimated a year ago it would cost $1.2 billion in 2014 dollars to decommissioning the reactor.
Joining the state in the petition was the state’s largest utility — Green Mountain Power — and the former owner of Vermont Yankee, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp., which is now owned by GMP.
Aside from the actual decommissioning, the cleanup of the Vernon nuclear site, the utilities and the state have a financial interest in the fund — 55 percent of anything that’s left over goes back to Vermont Yankee’s original Vermont ratepayers.
The state wants Entergy to be blocked from tapping the fund for handling the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel, which is expected to be stored on site for decades until a federal depository can be built.
Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the review was warranted, especially in light of the fact that Entergy Nuclear is shutting down two other nuclear power plants in the Northeast — Pilgrim in Massachusetts and the FitzPatrick plant in northern New York.
“We want the NRC to protect Vermont ratepayers’ interest in this fund,” Recchia said.
In a 62-page petition, the two state agencies asked federal regulators to review Entergy’s spending and to open up the process for more public review and comment.
“This trust fund is for cleaning up the Vermont Yankee site,” said Attorney General William Sorrell in a prepared statement. “We think the NRC needs to hold Entergy to that promise. This trust fund must be protected to ensure the site is cleaned up.”
Assistant Attorney General Kyle Landis-Marinello, said the state in particular was fighting an NRC staff decision allowing the use of the fund for spent fuel management, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
He said NRC staff members were not preventing Entergy from using the fund to pay property taxes, insurance and other expenses either, issues for which Entergy had not requested a formal exemption.
“The state believes you really need a hearing when you are making a really major decision,” said Landis-Marinello. “We are pushing issues that do not appear to be raised before by others.”
Entergy on Monday shot back, and said it was following the letter of the NRC regulations.
“We do not believe there is any merit to the state’s petition, which raises many of the same issues that have been raised in previous filings. As we have said before, all of the disbursements we have obtained from the trust fund have been appropriate, consistent with NRC guidelines, and consistent with our commitments to the state of Vermont,” Entergy Nuclear spokesman Martin Cohn said Monday.
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the state’s petition would be reviewed and the NRC would respond.
“We have specific processes for handling different types of petitions,” Sheehan said, noting it did not appear the state was using the usual petition path.
If that’s the case, Sheehan said, “the commission will have to decide how to handle the petition.”
The usual petition process allows members of the public to ask the NRC to modify, suspend or revoke a plant license, or take other types of enforcement action, in response to a safety concern involving a plant, Sheehan said. Anti-nuclear groups have often petitioned under that NRC protocol.
The NRC petition is the latest legal twist in a fight about how Yankee’s trust gets spent. In August, the attorney general, the Department of Public Service and the same two utilities filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.