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The Rising Cost of Clean-up

Vermonters Must Not Get Stuck with the Bill

Vermont Yankee has been generating radioactive waste in our state for nearly forty years and is scheduled to shut down in 2012. As the extensive tritium contamination at Vermont Yankee has shown, nuclear reactor sites become extremely contaminated over the life of the plant. The companies that operate reactors are required to set aside money to pay for the plants to be dismantled and the sites cleaned up. Having sufficient funds for that process, called decommissioning, is essential to protect both workers and the surrounding community for generations to come from the legacy of nuclear power.

Unfortunately decommissioning is frequently mismanaged and underfunded by nuclear power companies. Around the country decommissioning costs have exceeded the rosy estimates generated while the plants were operating, and ratepayers and/or taxpayers have been stuck with the bill. Cleaning up the Yankee Rowe reactor site in northwest Massachusetts, ended up costing over $700 million, more than double the original estimate and nearly twenty times what it cost to build the plant. Likewise, the Connecticut Yankee reactor has already cost over $800 million to decommission, and could end up totaling over $1.2 billion when the job is complete. It was originally estimated at $410 million. In both cases, some ratepayers who never used a kilowatt of electricity from the plants are paying for these excess costs.

In January 2008, it was revealed that VY's decommissioning fund is already doomed to zero out long before the job is complete. This could saddle the people of Vermont with an enormous bill for cleaning up waste that Entergy has profited from creating. Fairewinds Associates, led by a team of nuclear industry experts, Arnold and Margaret Gunderson, analyzed documents Entergy submitted to the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) in support of a license extension for Yankee. They found that Entergy's estimates ignore important aspects of decommissioning the plant and make unrealistic assumptions - such as not accounting for inflation.

In addition, Entergy has not contributed a penny to the decommissioning fund since it purchased VY in 2002. Along with the plant, Entergy was given the decommissioning fund created by fees paid by Vermont ratepayers to help pay for the eventual cleanup. While Entergy is reaping profits of up to $100 million per year from operating VY, it is contributing none of that to the eventual cleanup of its property in Vernon. It acts as though all of the contamination at VY was created by the previous owners, despite the tritium leaks and the fact that the company is generating even more waste since Entergy increased VY's power output by 20%.

Entergy's negligence puts Vermonters in a dangerous position. Fairewinds estimates that the fund could go bankrupt within ten years of VY's closure, long before cleanup is done. Because the reactor is actually owned by a subsidiary of Entergy that has no other assets, the subsidiary could simply declare bankruptcy and abandon the plant. Such an outcome is looking more likely since Entergy tried "spin off" six of its oldest reactors to a separate company called Enexus last year, and now is suggesting it may try to sell VY to another operator.

Entergy says it is also considering "mothballing" VY after it shuts down and letting it sit for twenty to thirty years before beginning cleanup. That approach would be a disaster for Vermont, since toxic and radioactive contamination at VY could be allowed to spread unrecognized and unchecked and create a much larger, more complicated and expensive cleanup.

Entergy falsely calls this plan SAFSTOR, an approved and proven decommissioning strategy used at some other plants. Under Entergy's "mothballing" plan, the company would fire nearly the entire workforce and leave only a skeleton crew at VY for security, sacrificing all of the history, experience, and detailed knowledge of the plant that current employees have and putting them out of work unnecessarily.

Under a true SAFSTOR cleanup, most of the workforce continues to be employed in prepping, monitoring, and maintaining the site until it is safe for workers to begin taking apart the plant. If employees begin dismantling the reactor right away, they are subjected to extremely hazardous working conditions that result in workers being repeatedly contaminated as they have been at Yankee Rowe and Connecticut Yankee.

The State of Vermont must require Entergy to come up with a realistic estimate of the cost of decommissioning and make up the funds necessary to complete it. Ironically, this is the state's policy toward companies that want to build wind power plants, which have a miniscule impact on the environment compared to nuclear reactors: before a wind farm can even be constructed, the company must have set aside all of the money necessary to restore the land to its original state when it eventually shuts the plant down. Entergy must be held equally responsible for cleaning up Vermont Yankee.

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