NRC inspectors praise Vermont Yankee as example for ‘how to decommission’

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Susan Smallheer, Brattleboro Reformer

VERNON — Two federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors this week praised the work of NorthStar Group Services in its decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The two inspectors, who spoke to the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel on Monday night, said they often bring other NRC inspectors to Vernon to see how it’s being done and how it should be done.

In fact, said Steve Hammann and Anthony Dimitriadis, Vermont Yankee is the best example of decommissioning, in the country.

“It’s our best performing site in Region One,” said Hammann, who later amended his statement to include “best in the country.”

-Kristopher Radder, Brattleboro Reformer

“They’re doing a very good job,” Hammann said.

NorthStar has said it hopes to capitalize on its Vermont Yankee record and get more decommissioning contracts as more nuclear power plants are closed. It currently is working to decommission the Crystal River plant in Florida, which is much larger than Yankee.

Before it tackled Vermont Yankee, it had only decommissioned a small, college-based, experimental reactor.

NorthStar, which bought Vermont Yankee from Entergy Nuclear in 2019, immediately began demolishing the 45-year-old plant, and hopes to complete the job in about two years. Entergy had planned to put the plant in mothballs for about 60 years, letting the radiation dissipate and the decommissioning trust fund grow.

NorthStar, in sharp contrast, started work immediately and said it could do the decommissioning with the existing trust fund.

So far, the decommissioning is ahead of schedule and on budget.

While the decommissioning so far has been free of any cited violations (there have been minor violations, the NRC said) or worker injuries, the next two years could be pivotal, they said, as workers tear down the reactor building and excavate the site to a depth of four feet.

Potential problems and contamination are often discovered at this stage in decommissioning, they warned.

Monday’s meeting marked the first time ever that the NRC inspectors had addressed the panel, remarked acting panel Chairwoman Lissa Weinmann of Brattleboro.

Weinmann, the vice-chairwoman, ran the meeting since the chairman, Steve Skibniosky of Vernon, died this fall. Skibniosky was a long-time employee at Vermont Yankee.

“Thank you so much for your vigilance,” Weinmann told the inspectors who were invited the NRC to the meeting, the first time in her six years on the panel.

NorthStar recently submitted its license termination plan to the NRC, and anti-nuclear activist Schuyler Gould asked what role the state had in reviewing the enormous document.

Corey Daniels, the decommissioning manager for NorthStar, said the plan was submitted to the NRC and would undergo a “rigorous” review.

The state has no role in reviewing the document, according to June Tierney, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service and a member of the panel.

“The NRC process? We don’t have a role per se,” Tierney said, noting the state has no role in the purely nuclear issues now, according to the memorandum of understanding the state signed with NorthStar as part of its purchase.

There is a public hearing process associated with the plan, she noted, and interested residents could get involved via that process.

The panel elected new officers for the coming year, unanimously selecting Christopher Campany as its new chairman. Campany is the executive director of the Windham Regional Commission and had been chair of the panel previously. Weinmann, who chairs the panel’s nuclear waste policy subcommittee, was reelected vice chairwoman.

Weinmann after the meeting said it was gratifying to hear from the NRC that NorthStar is doing a good job at Vermont Yankee.