Federal review of Vermont Yankee sale to begin

VERNON — Later this month, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will kick off its review of the proposed Vermont Yankee sale with a public meeting.

But the Jan. 24 meeting isn't convening anywhere near the shut-down Vernon nuclear plant. Instead, it will happen 350 miles away at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said such sessions - dubbed a "pre-submittal" meeting - typically are held in Maryland to allow for easier participation by NRC staff who will be involved in the review. And he noted that the public will be able to participate via teleconference.

"There will be a toll-free number for anyone who would like to listen in by phone, and there will be an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions prior to the meeting's conclusion," Sheehan said.

Nevertheless, some say they'll be lobbying for a local public meeting to happen sometime during the NRC's review process.

"While I'd love all meetings to be in Vermont, it doesn't worry me that the preliminary meeting is in Maryland," said Kate O'Connor, chairwoman of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. "However, I do think it's important that the NRC hold a meeting here."

Nearly two years after stopping power production at Vermont Yankee for economic reasons, plant owner Entergy in November announced a deal to sell the site to New York-based NorthStar Group Services Inc.

NorthStar has pledged to decommission and restore most of the site - with the exception of a spent-fuel storage area - by the end of 2030. That's decades faster than Entergy had planned, and it would allow for much quicker redevelopment of the 125-acre property.

The companies hope to complete the sale by the end of 2018. But they first need approval from both the Vermont Public Service Board and the NRC.

Entergy and NorthStar last month jointly submitted a lengthy, detailed application to the Public Service Board.

The NRC's Jan. 24 meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the agency's headquarters, is the official start of the federal review. More information about the meeting, including a teleconference number and passcode, is available via the NRC's online meeting announcements at https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg.

Technically, the NRC will be considering the transfer of Vermont Yankee's license to NorthStar - not NorthStar's proposed purchase of the plant site. But Sheehan noted that "the sale could not proceed without that (license) approval."

The NRC expects to see a license transfer application in February. The Jan. 24 meeting is designed "to develop a better understanding of what a license-holder will be proposing," Sheehan said.

"The discussions and questions also help the company to anticipate any areas of an application that could be problematic and revise its plans in response," he added. "In the case of the forthcoming Vermont Yankee license transfer application, it will be the first of its kind in several respects."

The meeting notice lists participants including Entergy and NorthStar, as well as representatives of two of NorthStar's proposed partners on the Vermont Yankee job - Paris-based AREVA and Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists LLC.

Federal participants include staff from NRC's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards; Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation; Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response; and the Office of General Counsel.

Logistically, Sheehan said, "it would not be an efficient use of resources to send those staffers to Vermont for a pre-submittal informational meeting."

Asked whether the NRC will hold a public forum in Vermont regarding the proposed license transfer, Sheehan said NRC officials "are not planning one at this time and typically do not hold meetings in the vicinity of the plant for this type of application."

Both O'Connor and Chris Campany, Windham Regional Commission executive director, said they plan to listen to the Jan. 24 meeting via phone. But both also expect to request a local hearing, as well.

"I've been in touch with staffers for all three members of Vermont's congressional delegation, and we're all working closely to get a public meeting in Vermont," O'Connor said. "There are opportunities."

O'Connor said she's also discussed the license-transfer process with NRC staffers. She said it's her understanding that there will be an opportunity for "interested parties" to ask for a hearing.

"Since the Entergy/NorthStar license transfer is the first of its kind and will have a lasting impact on our area, I'm going to keep pushing to have the NRC hold a public meeting in our area, and I'm pleased that our congressional delegation is on board," O'Connor said. "We might not be able to make progress without their help."

Mike Faher reports for the Reformer, VTDigger, and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.


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