March 11th, 2011

Update On That Free Press Yankee Story

by Philip Baruth

So we promised yesterday to give a more detailed update on the NRC/Yankee story today, and far be it from VDB to break a promise. What we have to offer is more in the way of dribs and drabs and impressions, but let the compositional chips fall where they may. Spent a good part of yesterday in the Statehouse, asking the opinion of those typically in the know: did they think the Free Press story on potentially imminent NRC relicensure of VY was fresh cause for worry? To a person, they were unperturbed. Notably so.

vermont yankee

Why? Their take matched our initial read of yesterday morning, that this was entirely predictable, the standard move in the Federal/corporate chess-game. The NRC, in its history, has never refused to relicense a plant. No nuclear owner, so far as VDB has been able to find, has ever been visited with pangs of conscience over radioactive leaks or burning transformers or collapsing water towers.

Therefore, it was a foregone conclusion that the NRC would move to relicense, and no real surprise that the move might be timed to change the atmosphere in the Vermont Senate around a revote.

Where does that leave us? Our delegation and our Governor both issued statements stressing the authority of the Senate finally to decide the matter. The key Delegation nugget: “We believe that Entergy should respect and abide by Vermont’s laws, which require approval from the Vermont Legislature, and then the Vermont Public Service Board, for the plant to continue to operate beyond 2012.”

Key Shummy nugget: “Today’s vote from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not unexpected, and does not change the fact that Vermont Yankee still needs approval from the state to continue operating beyond its 2012 license expiration. I am pleased that the NRC is reaffirming Vermont’s authority to determine the plant’s future.”

Would the NRC agree with the Governor’s take on their position? Doubtful. Still, good to have all our top officials putting on their game faces, because we will all need them sooner rather than later: Entergy will either use the NRC’s decision, or their pique at the State’s refusal to relicense, or both, to justify a full-bore lawsuit around the issue in the coming months. Assuming that the bill introduced into the Senate last week — which would strip the State of authority in the matter — dies on the vine, then every authoritative institution in Vermont will be on one very clear page about the state’s authority, and the need to defend it in court.

Which takes us, inexorably, to the Attorney General’s office. Be nice to have a press release from the AG standing four-square with the Governor, the Congressional types, and the Senate. Be real nice.

But at least one group isn’t waiting around: the New England Coalition, which has had pretty good luck over the last five years grinding down the gears of the Entergy machine, filed a Motion to Stay with the NRC this morning, arguing that Entergy’s amendments to their license application require either new hearings or the opening of hearing records sealed over a year ago. And NRC approval must wait as a result.

Brilliant. And a lesson to the rest of us: the worst thing we can do at this point is to act as though the tactics that worked so well over the last five years are no longer necessary. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Game still very much on.