August 21st, 2009

NRC Now Openly Asserting That States “Have to Negotiate” Clean Up Costs, But VDB Says Vermonters “Have To Fight” That Entire Notion Until The Cows Come Home

by Philip Baruth

Let’s review how Life and Politics work. For years, under the Bush Administration, critics on the Left pointed out the obvious: the color-coded Homeland Security threat assessment was clearly being used to juice fear in the electorate at key political moments. Now, years later, Tom Ridge admits same. Call it Life Imitates Dissent. Not always the way, but the evidence in the case of the Department of Homeland Security was undeniable, and predictably it can now no longer be denied. Except by Donald Rumsfeld.

vermont yankee

Let’s play another round. For years, critics of Entergy’s handling of Vermont Yankee have pointed out the obvious: that the company’s deliberately underfunded decommissioning fund will leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs. Entergy and the Douglas Administration have stoutly maintained that the Fund will magically grow to cover all costs.

But yesterday, in a teleconference on the decommissioning question, NRC officials essentially gave up the game: “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a teleconference Thursday on nuclear power plant decommissioning funds, said states have to negotiate part of the cleanup costs with plant owners; the minimum amount the federal agency requires doesn’t cover everything.”

There it is, folks, from the mouth of the NRC: if you buy their version of events, ratepayers and taxpayers are already on the hook for substantial clean-up costs. And that’s before Entergy hands off to Enexus and exits stage right. Before we’re left with an unusable stretch of Connecticut Riverfront and a curio shelf jam-packed with radioactive dry casks.

But let’s follow out the logic a bit here.

If, according to the NRC, the state is already essentially in negotiations concerning clean-up costs, then how should we view the Governor’s efforts to shield Entergy from liability? How should we view his two vetoes on the decommissioning fund bill?

The NRC’s statement of August 20, 2009 makes it painfully clear that Jim Douglas has been and is now negotiating on behalf of Entergy — not the ratepayers he claims to be defending. Because they are the ones who will eventually be forced to close what we’ll call “the decommissioning gap,” as envisioned by Entergy and the NRC.

How big will that gap be, now that the NRC admits it exists? In a very real way, it depends upon Jim Douglas. So far he’s done what he can to make sure it will be as small as possible — for Entergy.

This is one really important reason I’m running for the State Senate: there is a large-scale corporate effort in place to transfer vast wealth out of state, and then gentle Vermonters to the idea that they and their children are obligated to bear most of the costs of decommissioning.

It is a pressing threat, and state government has thus far been unable to counter that threat.

Another Senator willing to go to the mat on the issue, especially from the Northern part of the state, can’t hurt.

I’ve been told more than once that the issue of Vermont Yankee is a loser in this election cycle, at least in Chittenden County. Voters don’t care, I’m told, and those that do want cheap power from the Southern end of the state. Better to avoid this particular fight.

I couldn’t disagree more. Vermonters are being lied to, and that fact is becoming clearer every day. And it will become clearer still as Entergy attempts to pivot and hand off its corporate responsibilities. No voter — Republican, Democrat, or Progressive — wants taxpayers saddled with these clean-up costs. And no voter likes a lie, large or small.

So I intend to use this election to try to keep awareness of these realities high. Let’s make this the acid test: if you don’t support a decommissioning fund bill with teeth, what’s your plan to shield taxpayers from the hundreds of millions in costs even the NRC now claims the states must negotiate?

Which is to say that I have only two words for anyone who thinks this issue is a fight that no Chittenden County candidate should pick: bring it.