Fairewinds’ report Vermont Yankee’s Decommissioning As An Example of Nationwide Failures of Decommissioning Regulation (see below for full report) was presented to the Senate Committee for Natural Resources and Energy Wednesday April 22, 2015. The report evaluating Entergy’s plan to use the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sanctioned SAFSTOR process to decommission Vermont Yankee was funded by a grant from the Lintilhac Foundation. The report, which was submitted to the NRC March 23rd, takes a comprehensive look at SAFSTOR, an NRC developed subsidy that benefits nuclear power plant owners like Entergy by providing them with a 60-year window to complete decommissioning of nuclear plants. In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen emphasized the lack of a basis in physics for the 60-year timeline and the potential dangers and burden to Vermonters should Entergy, a limited liability company (LLC), be allowed to take 60-years to decommission Vermont Yankee.
Starting with the financial issues that are present in the SAFSTOR model, Arnie pointed out how Entergy has already been allowed to raid Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning fund before decommissioning even has begun. Entergy has made it clear that it will not begin decommissioning Vermont Yankee until the decommissioning fund has grown enough to fully cover all decommissioning costs plus funding spent fuel storage costs, a growth process extended by Entergy’s premature extraction of funds. Furthermore, Entergy has announced that as a LLC, the federal government may not be able to hold Entergy financially responsible should the decommissioning process take longer than 60-years, leaving the VY carcass and financial burden to Vermonters.
Arnie walked the panel through data that shows that the money exists for Entergy to protect workers and to completely clean up its toxic mess by 2032. By allowing nuclear energy corporations to raid nuclear plant decommissioning funds, the NRC is granting an un-reviewed and unregulated subsidy to the nuclear industry Gundersen said. Johnson State College geology professor Dr. Leslie Kanat worked with Fairewinds to create the spreadsheet analysis.
Fairewinds analysis also addresses serious safety concerns that Gundersen outlined for the Senate Committee, one of the most pressing being that Entergy wants to take as many short cuts as the NRC will allow including ending the emergency planning process at Vermont Yankee (see report, pg. 29). Entergy has asked for a special exemption simply to avoid spending money on the current evacuation plan even though the equivalent of radiation from 700 atomic bombs sits in the spent fuel pool. The NRC has approved of Entergy’s exemption, which means that when it comes time to remove the highly radioactive spent fuel from the fuel pool into dry cask storage, an Emergency Planning Zone will no longer be in existence. In fact, during the next 8-9 months, Entergy will be allowed to greatly reduce all emergency planning and full removal of the Emergency Planning Zone will take place April 2016.
Due to the cost of safety modifications as well as deteriorating equipment conditions that negatively impact safe plant operation, between 8 and 10 additional nuclear plants are also under consideration for decommissioning, making nuclear power decommissioning one of the most serious issues facing all areas of the country. State Senate listens, will NRC hear? In his presentation to the Vermont Senate Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, Gundersen noted that the NRC is more likely to listen if states facing pull out by LLCs ban together in order to change nuclear law. The state of Vermont has the opportunity to press the NRC to be accountable for the safety of the people, not the protection of industry profits.
Fairewinds’ Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Report:
Fairewinds Energy Education – Arnie Gundersen presents at Montpelier Statehouse
AG: Hi. I’m Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds. And Fairewinds Energy Education is a 501(c)(3) based in Burlington. The founder and the creative talent for Fairewinds Energy Education is my wife, Maggie, who’s sitting behind me. And also with us is Caroline Phillips, our administrative person and the guy walking around here with the camera is our video guy, Dave Link. Thank you for having me. The Lintilhac Foundation paid Fairewinds to do an analysis of Vermont Yankee. And we found that we couldn’t just look at Vermont Yankee; that there was so much that was tied to nuclear regulation that Vermont Yankee is in fact just an example of nuclear regulation. Vermont Yankee is the bow wave of decommissioning. There’s a couple out in front or right around the same time. Five nuclear plants shut down last year – two at San Onofre in California; one Crystal River in Florida. But those are utility owned. Two, though, shut down that are limited liability corporations. One is Kewanee in Wisconsin and the other is Vermont Yankee. So the experiences on Vermont Yankee and Kewanee are the bow wave. There’s about 40 other limited liability corporations that are going to shut down sometime, whether it’s sooner or in the next 25 years; and the remaining 60 roughly are utility owned. And there is a difference there. So our thanks to the Lintilhac Foundation. The report the Lintilhac Foundation allowed us to write is the bound thing. And it’s available on line, too. But we provided you with a bound copy.
MG: We posted it on the committee page.
AG: So the full report is roughly a 40-page report. That’s available on line. And then the other one is the cliff notes. So we’ll work off the cliff notes today. We found there were 7 financial areas that we wanted to talk about and 4 safety areas that are Vermont Yankee specific. The financial issues involve Vermont Yankee but are not really Vermont Yankee specific. And at the end – there is an ask here – and the ask is that – I don’t think there’s something as a legislative bill that can be produced, but I know that the auditors’ offices around the nation have a group, the same with the public service commissioners, the same with the attorneys general. And I guess the ask is that as a group of states, if you believe these problems that we’re identifying are significant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does listen to states. And even just Vermont showing up at the door means a lot. But if it were 10 states, it means a real lot. The states that are involved with especially the limitation liability corporations we believe should band together and begin to change nuclear law. So there are 7 financial issues and then I’ll talk about the 4 safety issues briefly. The first one is –
M: So is there some effort already underway to organize – I don’t know if it’s auditors or public utility commissions or AG’s – is there something already underway?
AG: I don’t believe there is. I talked to Chris Recchia and he’s on board. He sees this pretty clearly. But I don’t really think he’s trying to involve his peers right now. Hopefully, that can happen because Vermont’s not the only one; it’s just the first. So the first concept is this concept – the nuclear industry will call it safe store – but it’s spelled S-a-f-s-t-o-r. And your 3rd grade teacher will be rolling over in her grave because that’s pronounced SAFSTOR – rhymes with sap, not safe. Safe store, as the nuclear industry would say, but SAFSTOR is a 60-year delay until the nuclear plant can be dismantled. There is no reason in physics why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission chose 60 years. It’s a financial mechanism that allows the decommissioning funds to grow, but there is no reason in physics why you should wait 60 years to shut a nuclear plant down. Now the nuclear industry’s position is well, we have to save the poor workers from the radiation exposure. And the problem there is that when a nuclear plant, once they do a repair and start back up very quickly, that’ll give enormous exposures to their employees. And you really can’t have it both ways. An example is for Vermont Yankee over 60 years – radiation is measured in REM – it’s just a number – and the workforce will get around 300 REM over the 60 years to decommission the plan. But Entergy at Palisades did a repair last year in 2014, where in 3 weeks, they dished out 115 REM to their employees to get the plant back up and running again. So when a plant needs to start back up, it’s dose be damned, but when it comes to decommissioning, they’ll hide behind that saying we need to save our poor workers. Our recommendation, and I think Recchia sees eye to eye with this, that there is no reason for SAFSTOR in the law. And I’ll get into that a little bit later. But this concept of waiting 30, 40, 50, 60 years for this carcass to be removed has no bases in physics. So the next thing is there’s this thing in law – 10 CFR 50 – and 10 is Nuclear Code of Federal Regulations. 50 is Power Reactors. So 10 CFR 50.75. And this point 75 paragraph is how nuclear plants are – how we calculate how much it costs to decommission the plant. And so 10 CFR 50.75 – I’ll just 50.75 now instead – but 50.75 just says that you’ve got a formula. And the formula is literally a paragraph. There’s no construction experience in the formula, like you plug in the power level of the plant and the type of plant, VWR, PWR – and the age of the plant – and it pops out a number that tells you this is how much it’s going to cost, this is how much money you have to have in your decommissioning fund. The formula has never been right and it’s frequently wrong by a factor of 2 or 3. But it’s embedded in the law right now 10 CFR 50.75.
M: And pardon me, the 2 or 3, is it generally low or high or –
AG: It’s always low. Yes, it’s always low. And now the problem is for you as policymakers. We went through this and Maggie and I wrote a report in 07 that showed there was going to be a decommissioning shortfall, and again in 2012, we wrote a report for the Joint Fiscal Office that showed that there would be a decommissioning shortfall. But it’s not a transparent process. All you do is plug in a couple of numbers into this magic formula and out pops a number. So there can be – this law was written before Excel spreadsheets. And Maggie and I worked with out science advisor, a guy named Les Kennett, who, by the way, is a great professor over at Johnson State. And we developed a spreadsheet that does this for you. And if anybody wants it, the actual working spreadsheet is available on our site. But what we did was we took what’s in the fund – and that’s a number that’s known – and we escalated that at 5 percent. And 5 percent is what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows when you’re doing these assumptions. So the fund is growing at 5 percent and Entergy provided in ’07 and again in 2012, the cost. And so we escalated the cost at 3 percent. And as the costs were incurred, the spreadsheet took the cost and removed it from what was available in the fund. It’s a real simple spreadsheet. It took us less than 10 days to develop this spreadsheet and we’re making it available to anybody who needs it. So our recommendation is that the formula in 10 CFR 50.75 be replaced by an Excel spreadsheet. And it would allow policymakers to make informed decisions about just how much money is in the fund and how that money is going to be spent over time. I know that Attorney General Sorrel and Governor Shumlin faced this problem when they were negotiating with Entergy last year. Exactly when is there going to be enough money to get into the fund.
M: Can I ask a quick question? So then that 3 percent cost line for the cost of decommissioning the work – is that based on prior industry experience? Is that the rate of growth of those costs to date?
AG: There’s about 5 different costs in it. Most of them have been growing around 3 or 4 percent. A couple of them, though, like the cost of disposal of the waste, have been growing faster. So the formula may not be accurate but it’s not it’s not a showstopper. So now that brings me to the key point in the financial discussion. The decommissioning fund is for decommissioning. And decommission is defined in this 50.75. It does not include the cost of spent fuel storage. The decommissioning fund is not designed to support the spent fuel storage fund (sic) (11:35) A little bit of background there. They were going to build Yucca Mountain. It didn’t get built in time. So all of this waste wound up sitting at sites around the country. And the process is that utilities or stand-alones sued the Department of Energy for the cost of spent fuel storage and there’s a litigation process and they always get it back. And it may take 2 or 3 or 4 years. But if they take $100 million to build a spent fuel storage pad, they then sue the Department of Energy. There’s a legal process and they get it back. Well, what Entergy did in ’07 and again in 2012 and again in the estimates they provided you is they are taking that money out of the decommissioning fund and not assuming they ever get it paid back. It’s essentially an interest-free loan from the decommissioning fund. Now they’re asking for an exemption from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission so that they can do this. And it’s like the speed limit on 89 is 65 miles an hour. But we can pull into the police barracks and as permission to go 95. And that’s basically what they’re doing. They’re asking for an exemption to tap the fund to take the spent fuel storage costs out. And that’s a real cost to Vermonters. Essentially, they’re asking for about $400 million to be removed from the fund over time and it’s at least an interest-free loan. There’s no assumption that they pay it back; basically assuming that they lose with Department of Energy and they don’t pay the money back. So our spreadsheet takes that into account, though. Our spreadsheet shows that you do get the money paid back.
M: Is there any history of such exemptions being granted?
AG: Yes. Unfortunately. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected some and accepted some. In the Maine Report, we have quite a few NRC emails with Sarah Hoffman when she was over in the department. And of course, I was on the oversight panel. So Sarah was sharing emails that she was getting from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which were quite clear that exemptions are not necessarily approved; but yet Entergy is counting on it.
M: Have any states or any jurisdictions where such exemptions have been granted countersued to have the money restored to the fund in a suit against the Department of Energy or the NRC for allowing the exemption?
AG: No. No. And one of the things that we’ve recommended is that Commissioner Recchia petition the NRC not to grant that exemption. And we’re an interested party here because half of any residual in the fund is ours. At the end of the process, the deal we cut with Entergy is that half of those funds are ours. So we have a seat at the table is Fairewinds’ position.
F: And you mean Vermont.
AG: Yes. Not the State of Vermont but it actually is the rate payers that pay the electric bills.
M: Not you and Maggie.
AG: No. Yes, we Vermonters as rate payers to the utilities that own Vermont Yankee at the end state a chance to have potentially a $100 million reduction in our rates at some point in time. So what we did was we – Fairewinds – took the cost that Vermont Yankee provided and we stripped out the spent fuel storage cost. And we ran the calculation through our spreadsheet and it said – the first slide on this handout – we show that Vermont Yankee can be completely reduced to a farmer’s field again by 2032. And that’s dramatically different from what you’re hearing from Entergy. They’re out at 2059 and things like that. And the difference is that Entergy is tapping the fund for something that NRC has specified is not what the fund is for. Now why would Entergy do that? It’s – Mark’s smiling here – and the reason is that if they were take the funds from their balance sheet, it’s essentially nonproductive. They wind up having more capital on their balance sheet and not any new revenues to support it. So industry-wide, the nuclear industry has discovered this loophole where they can tap the fund to pay for the independent spent fuel storage and it’s not in the law. My experience with the NRC is that if you persist long enough, you’ll get the exemption, which allows you to tap the fund. So that’s the very first line shows initial cost – the Y axis, the up-and-down axis is the money that’s available. And it initially drops. And that’s to be expected because you have a period where you’re cleaning up the wet systems and things like that. You’re buttoning down the plant. So costs are going to drop because you’re pulling from the decommissioning fund faster than it’s being replenished by the stock market. Then there’s a period where it’s level. And when I went through the actual spreadsheet – there’s a second page. What it shows is that the first 5 years you’re sucking from the fund faster than it’s growing. But then if you just wait 5 years, if you put the plant in mothballs for 5 years, which means you have a couple of maintenance people making sure the roof doesn’t leak, making sure pigeons don’t get in and health physics people to monitor the radiation – just wait 5 years, the fund will have recovered enough at 5 percent growth, to allow enough funds to completely decommission the plant if spent fuel storage is not included in the revenue stream. And again, the spreadsheet’s available. And we can tinker. If you don’t like 5 percent, we can run it up to 6 or down to 4. It’s a very flexible spreadsheet that Doctor Kennett at Johnson State developed with me. So if as planners you have this Excel spreadsheet, a lot of the issues we faced in ’07 and 2012 would be off the table. Entergy basically was saying well, if you let us run to 2032, there’ll be enough money in the fund. But there was no visibility of that process. And now we’ve got the visibility in the process to strip out the various components. Okay, so that brings me to the fourth point, is why do we have 35 years worth of nuclear fuel sitting in the fuel pool. The original concept of a nuclear power plant was this fuel would sit for 5 years and then it would be shipped for reprocessing. Reprocessing never happened and Yucca Mountain never happened so the fuel is building up on site. But there’s no reason why it has to be in the fuel pool. If you look at Fukushima Daiichi, they had fuel that had been removed from the fuel pool and was on the ground in dry cask storage. And the dry casks survived the earthquake and the tsunami just fine. The risk to the public is storing the fuel in the fuel pool which of course is what happened at Daiichi and why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said back out for 50 miles. They told Americans to evacuate out to at least 50 miles. So spent fuel storage in the wet fuel pool is now being allowed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And it’s actually being encouraged by utilities and reactor owners. It’s the same reason that the independent fuel storage is. It saves utilities money. If they wait until the plant shuts down, then they believe they can transfer all of that cost to get the fuel out of the fuel pool into the decommissioning fund. So it’s a financial instrument for them. Fairewinds isn’t alone in this. The Union of Concerned Scientists feels strongly that the fuel is much more dangerous when it’s in the fuel pool on the top of Vermont Yankee then if it had been moved to dry cask storage. So if utilities – and again, they’re hiding behind the fact we’re doing it to save our poor workers exposure – then, of course, the argument at Palisades holds true that if you need to get that plant up on line, you’re going to spend money and you’re going to irradiate people. But when it’s not a cost to keep the plant running, then they seem to worry more about their employees. So it’s not as safe. And yet it’s perpetuated because utilities feel they can push that issue down the road and when it hits decommissioning, they have another source of funds rather than operating revenues. And even if they got the money back over 4 years, they’d just say well, it’s gone for 4 years. Well, $400 million at 5 percent is $20 million a year x 4 or 5 years – there’s $100 million interest- free loan that the fund is giving to Entergy or to Kewanee or any of the other plants. So we’re really advocate that the NRC not give exemptions for removal of spent fuel as is funded from the decommissioning fund. We feel strongly that the plants are not safe if the fuel sits in that pool. Now I actually have a great bit of good news. And it’s the last two slides on the handout. The second-to-last slide shows the gross in the decommissioning fund over time since 1995. That was the only information I could have. It actually went back further. And you’ll notice it’s rather smooth until about ’06 and it gets bump after that. And the reason is that monthly data became available from the Department in about ’07 or ’08. So the bumpiness in the curve is not indicative of anything except that it’s based on monthly data. But the cool part is that the utilities in Vermont controlled that fund from ’95 until 2002 and invested it in the market and got 6.5 percent. The rate of growth in the fund when Vermont utilities were controlling it was 6.5 percent. When Entergy got it, it’s grown at 5.8 percent. So the Vermont utilities should pat themselves on the back. They were able to grow their fund somewhat faster than Entergy did. Both the 5.8 and the 6.5 are greater than the NRC assumption. So I really think the NRC is being conservative here by assuming 5 percent fund growth. And I think that’s a good thing. Because if you have another stock market retrenchment, you get to the point of being less than that. So a pat on the back to the Vermont utilities to get 6.5 percent and a pat on the back to Entergy to get 5.8 percent over the period that they owned the decommissioning portfolio. The last three financial things, though, are another concern. And the first one is the issue of limited liability corporations. The NRC allowed that to happen about 15, 17 years ago, as utilities – the traditional utilities sold off their generating assets, they were bought by limited liability corporations. And there were some great thinkers as this was happening that said this was not a good idea. Vermont’s Peter Bradford is a perfect example. A company called Synergy wrote a report that Bradford actually co-authored that talks about the risks of limited liability corporations. Maggie and I have been talking about this since ’07 when we published our first report, that limited liabilities are there to limit liability. And there’s actually four – three limited liabilities between Vermont Yankee and Entergy. Vermont Yankee is owned by a limited liability corporation that’s owned by a limited liability corporation that’s owned by another limited liability corporation. The net effect of this is that if they walk away, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that we’ll blow through that and we’ll go after the parent company. But every attorney I’ve ever talked to says that’s why we have limited liability corporations, so you can’t blow through it. And in the Maine report, we have statements from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission basically saying that we will blow through it. And then we have statements from Entergy clearly saying that in 60 years, they will enter into litigation with the State of Vermont if they run out of funds. So there are two parties here and Vermont’s kind of stuck in the middle. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s concept of the law as it exists is entirely different than the way it’s being interpreted by Entergy. So I won’t go into the exact quote, but trust me – I’m sure you’ve seen them in the papers – but Susan Small here has done a phenomenal job of identifying what the NRC said, and basically we will fight and make sure that the ultimate corporate parent is responsible. And Dave Graham has done a great job covering Vice President Toomey’s comments here that basically said that no, at the end of 60 years, we’ll come back and go after the utilities that previously owned the plant to cover costs. And that’s an issue that I don’t think we should wait 60 years to find out about. We’re basically deferring a potential liability. So limited liability corporations were not – the NRC didn’t think about at the end of life, what do you do for a power plant when they allowed these limited liability corporations. Related to that, we all know that part of the deal that was cut in 2002 was that the state would share 50-50 any remaining funds in the decommissioning fund. And to go back to that slide, if there’s $100 million left in 2032, as I interpret the MOU, Entergy gets half that and the state rate payers get half that. So there’s a potential $50 million windfall the rate payers of Vermont. Attached to this Maine report at the back is a long letter to the assistant attorney general and to Mr. Recchia from Entergy. And it’s a pretty nasty piece of work. The point, though, is that Entergy is now claiming, at least in that letter, that it is the FERC – Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – that controls who gets that money and it’s not bound by the original MOU. So we’re basically seeing that same issue – if you don’t like it, we’ll litigate. The last financial issue is that the fund is not auditable. I would hope that State Auditor Hoffer would become involved. What happened was, again, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission didn’t think about limited liability corporations. When a utility owned the fund, there were checks and balances and the Public Service Commission would oversee the auditing of the fund. But the NRC does not audit – does not do financial audits. And it seems to me that the State of Vermont is precluded from doing a financial audit. Well, the net effect of that is that Entergy can – Entergy has a subsidiary called TLG Services that does decommissioning work, and they’re funneling this decommissioning work to TLG Services. My question is, has there been a competitive bid. I don’t believe so. Basically, they couldn’t make money when the plant was running, but they now have a profit center to do decommissioning analysis so they can funnel the entire decommissioning fund through this wholly-owned subsidiary and essentially strip out inordinate amounts of profits.
M: Are you surprised?
AG: No. So my point is, Doug Hoffer does some phenomenal work auditing different functions. And I would hope – because again, half of the excess of the fund is ours –
M: But if you deplete the fund and it all goes to your own in-house subsidiary or cousin, you don’t have to split what you’ve embezzled.
AG: Right. And the problem here is that it’s an LLC. Back in the old days when it was owned by Vermont utilities, the public Service Commission, Department of Public Service, could intervene, could watch the process, could make sure that there was competitive bids. We don’t have that as it stands now and I don’t see any indication that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to assume that function. By the way, this report that the Lintilhac Foundation provided the funds for was given to the NRC as part of the public comment period. And we actually have the acceptance. The NRC has it in their possession. But they have not made it a public document yet. So we will see over the months to come what the NRC’s reaction to that issue will be, because the issue of auditing these funds is one of the ones that we brought to the NRC’s attention. So that’s it for financial. I’ve got four safety issues that are relatively quick. First off is emergency planning. And I know Commissioner Recchia has been an advocate that we’ve got to keep the emergency plan in place until the nuclear fuel is safely out of the fuel pool onto the ground. I couldn’t agree more. There’s three senators – Boxer from California, Markey from Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, who are also asking for that. They’re all democrats; they were all outvoted. I don’t think it will go anywhere. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does pay attention to states. So if enough states feel that we should have an emergency plan, I would think that there might be some leverage there. You know, we’ve had near misses during SAFSTOR. At Dresden out in Illinois back in the 90’s, a pipe froze and the nuclear fuel pool began to drain and they lost 60,000 gallons from the nuclear fuel pool, and it was heading down pretty quick. In another day, the fuel pool would have drained and the X-ray cloud coming out of the fuel pool would have been so high they would have had to evacuate the site. So SAFSTOR really isn’t safe store. And the other example is Fukushima, where the fuel pool in unit 4 was on the hairy edge of causing the entire site to be evacuated, too. So until the fuel is out of the fuel pool, I think you should have an emergency plan in place. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s position is that if there is an accident in the fuel pool, the radiation, whatever little bit there is, won’t leave the site; that it will be in what is called the owner-controlled area. And that’s Entergy’s position. The calculations show that it’ll stay in the owner-controlled area. If that’s true, they should give up their liability insurance. Right? We have Price Anderson liability insurance to protect the people and if you’re claiming now that the plan is perfectly safe and no radiation is going to leave the site boundaries, they should renounce their Price Anderson insurance, which of course has not happened. So first, they should keep the emergency plan in place until 5 years out, and that should come from the fund. I don’t have any problem with that.
M: Is that the issue?
AG: I think it is, yes.
M: They don’t mind emergency plan being in place if the State of Vermont picks up the tab. That’s the issue.
AG: With $2 million a year coming out of the fund – right now the fund is growing at $30 million or $40 million a year. It’s a cost – if we Vermonters feel it’s important, we should bear it, but the nuclear industry doesn’t want it. And I think that Entergy is just spouting the company line. But related to that is the other part. We know that it’s obviously safer than when it was running, but it’s not completely safe until that fuel’s on the ground and in the dry cask storage. And if you remember – I’m probably the only person in the state who remembers this, but in ’08, there was – the brakes failed on the crane as it was lifting fuel. So as it was, this crane is designed to handle about 120 tons. And they were lifting about 100-ton canister of spent fuel and the brakes failed. Now it didn’t go into full screaming down the – but they couldn’t control it. It went down, down, down, down. So we have a history in Vermont of the brakes failing. So the other thing that we’re recommending to the NRC is that when you move fuel – and you have to move fuel – and it’s important that you do move fuel – do it when the school is not in session. I mean there’s kids right across the street – 4,500 feet away. Now they can wait until the summer to do this or they can do it on holidays or whatever, but it just to me makes no sense to be moving nuclear fuel at a reactor that had a brake failure already. And the risk is remote. There’s no doubt about it. We all hope and pray, but why not get the kids on holidays, weekends or whatever and move the fuel then. It just seems to me to be a prudent thing to do. Last two things. You’re aware that they found strontium 90 on the site in the groundwater. When Maggie and I wrote a report for the Joint Fiscal Office, we recommended constant monitoring of the groundwater. And we also recommended that the extraction wells continued to be operated. That didn’t happen. Entergy shut the extraction wells down. And I just read that Entergy is going to stop the monitoring wells; at least is going to stop the Department of Health’s access to the monitoring wells in about 6 months. So we don’t know where that strontium is going but we do know the groundwater movement on that site is from the nuclear reactor toward the Connecticut River. The position that Fairewinds has taken is I know where that strontium 90 is coming from and it’s from that advanced off-gas (?39:15) building, the one that had the leak back in – well, the leak started in ’07 but it was discovered in 2010. We can decommission that piece of the plant now. And we know – when I was on the oversight panel, they had done borings under the AOG – Advanced Off Gas building, and they know that there’s strontium under the building. So why not decommission that building now? It would be funds for Brattleboro. There’s potentially a $50 million construction project here, which would help an area that could use the work. But more importantly, it stops – all the horses are not out of the barn. Some of the horses are, but we can get the horses that are in the barn and pick them up and store it. So one of our major technical recommendations is get the radioactive material out of the ground, clean up the AOG building now. You’ve got to do it anyway, it’s in the estimate.
M: Before it gets to the river?
AG: It’s a pay-me-now or pay-me-later, but pay me later on steroids. If this stuff starts to spread throughout the site as it moves out of the plume, the costs are greater. So let’s – it just seems to me to be more prudent from a cost standpoint to pick up that AOG building now and bottle up what radiation is leaking out. Last point, and I know Dr. Irwin and I see eye to eye on this – is that the NRC’s release criteria to give the site back to the state is you can’t find radiation down to 3 feet. Below that, they don’t care. They don’t look. Well, we know we’ve got strontium 90 in the groundwater now at 20 or 30 or 40 feet. So we’re asking – and I know that Dr. Irwin in his comments made the same recommendation that Fairewinds did – that the release criteria is not appropriate for when you know you have a leak. And this is not something that can be walked away from. So in closing, I testify all over the country. I’ve testified in California and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. It’s nice to be in this building where people – where the legislators pay attention to the – this is just nice to be back. That’s all. Thank you. And I got you back on schedule.
M: I just have a process question. So we hear about these things, but when you say them I go oh, I’m not quite sure I caught all that. So can you just walk through very briefly the casks. So they shut down the reactor and that involves removing the fuel rods from the reactor, right? And they go into the spent fuel pool. And then what’s the next step from there? They are removed from the pool and they go where? To dry cask storage?
AG: Yes. It takes – the fuel that’s in the reactor most recently stays physically hot for about 5 years and it can’t be in dry cask storage. But there’s 39 years worth of fuel or 35 years worth of fuel in the pool, some of which could be removed right now. But at the end of the day, to do dry cask so that air can cool it, you’ve got to wait 5 years. Entergy has to have licensed reactor operators monitoring the fuel pool because it’s mechanical. It’s not passive. There are active systems, pumps and heat exchangers that have to run all the time. Seismically qualified pumps and heat exchangers have to run all the time. So after 5 years when you begin to remove the fuel – it might be 6 years, but around that – after 5 or 6 years, you can reduce cost dramatically because you don’t have to keep the engineers keeping things running, the mechanics keeping things running and the operators – the licensed operators. It’s a cost reduction that occurs about 5 years out.
M: And how many years of spent fuel is in the pool currently?
AG: It’s full.
M: Is it just the last five years?
AG: They removed – there’s six canisters of fuel on the pad right now. And they removed that fuel to make room for more fuel. And now the fuel pool is cooled again. So they never completely emptied the pool. Again, the goal is – they paid for removing those canisters and they sued Department of Energy and got some money back. That came out of Entergy’s budget.
M: How many more canister’s worth of fuel have yet to be removed?
AG: I think about 30. It could be 35 or 25 but it’s around 30 more canisters on a thick pad that’s seismically qualified.
M: And if they could empty the pool completely, then you’re saying they don’t have to have operators there, they’re not running pumps all the rest. So as best you know their goal because it reduces the ongoing cost of that ?44:44 before the other decommissioning costs are addressed?
AG: Yes. I think it’s every utility and every reactor operator in the country’s goal is to empty the pool 5 or 6 years out. The question is, who pays for it.
M: And then the other question is, in that sequence of events, when does decommissioning actually begin, as opposed to managing the plant you already just own? Where’s that line?
AG: Well, officially, they are in decommissioning now. And that means that the NRC resident inspectors don’t live in Vermont any more and things like that. So that the official – there’s a transfer that occurs when they notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it’s over. But the actual dismantlement of a plant occurs when there’s funds to see it through.
M: How long was it between when Maine stopped producing power – Maine Yankee – and it went through the 5-year phase – when did it begin to dismantle the plant and ?45:55
AG: We could be dismantling parts of Vermont Yankee now. The turbine hall is not terribly radioactive and things like that. But eventually you’ve got to consolidate it down to the spent fuel pool if you wanted to. But Maine was done in 10 years. Connecticut Yankee was done in 10 years. Connecticut Yankee, as they were doing it, they discovered a leak of strontium 90 into the aquifer that ran up their costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. But it wasn’t a limited liability corporation; it was a utility. And those hundreds of millions got spread out over everybody in Connecticut – 8 million people, a lot bigger state than ours. And they agreed to spread the cost out over 10 years. So that the issue of a strontium leak to the aquifer has been faced and is significant but it’s never been faced with an LLC.
MG: Thank you so much.
M: Thank you very much. And thanks to the Lintilhac Foundation.