Cost of Nuclear Plant Climbs - Cash Shortfall for Cleanup

 Rutland Herald

April 3, 2009

Entergy doesn't have cash in fund to clean up Vernon nuclear plant site.
By Susan Smallheer STAFF WRITER
BRATTLEBORO - The cost of decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant has gone up $25 million in the past year, at the same time its savings account to cover the costs of dismantlement and cleanup has declined about $93 million.

But according to a filing with the NRC this week, Entergy Nuclear has no plans of making any new contributions to the decommissioning trust fund, sidestepping the issue of the recent declines in the trust fund because of the economic crisis.

Entergy told the NRC that it now expected decommissioning to cost $909 million, up from $875 million, according to its 2008 report. The plant's decommissioning fund has declined from $430 million to $347 million in the past 11 months, a 20 percent decline.

Entergy Nuclear says it expects the trust fund to grow at an annual rate of 2 percent.

The Vermont Legislature is currently debating whether Entergy Nuclear should make additional contributions to the decommissioning trust fund and tying the size of the contribution to the issue of whether the Legislature endorses another 20 years of operation of the Vernon reactor.

Vermont Yankee, which opened in 1972, currently sells about half of its output to Vermont utilities, and that represents about one-third of all the electricity consumed in the state.

Entergy Nuclear, in a letter to the NRC dated April 1, said that it had not made a determination whether the decline in the decommissioning fund "is considered material or not."

The plan calls for a long period of time (at least 25 years and likely much longer) that the plant will be shut down and essentially mothballed, while its trust fund grows so there is enough money to dismantle it and clean up the Vernon site.

Entergy's plans were also dependent on the federal Department of Entergy taking over control and financial responsibility of the spent fuel at the plant in 2020, a three-year "slip" from Entergy's estimate of 2017 contained in its report in 2008.

According to Entergy's plan, it will cost $656 million to clean up the radiation at the plant, essentially destroying the reactor, and $219 million for handling the spent nuclear fuel, which is in a large deep-water pool on the fifth floor of the reactor building and a small outside storage facility, called dry cask storage. Entergy started transferring old, highly radioactive fuel to those steel and concrete casks last summer and will continue transferring more fuel every year.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the federal regulators had received the report this week and would study it before making a determination on whether the plant was acceptable. "The NRC staff will have to review the submittals. If any potential funding shortfalls are identified, the NRC staff would follow this regulation," he said, referring to the law that requires adequate funding for decommissioning activities.

"The NRC reserves the right to take the following steps in order to ensure a licensee's adequate accumulation of decommissioning funds: review, as needed, the rate of accumulation of funds, and either independently or in cooperation with FERC and the licensee's state PUC, take additional actions as appropriate on a case-by-case basis, including modification of a licensee's schedule for the accumulation of decommissioning funds," the law states.

Larry Smith, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, declined comment on the report until later today.