When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Entergy’s Vermont Yankee relicensing request for an additional 20 years of operation in March–ahead of a March 2012 planned closing date–the company may have thought the future of its plant was secure, but this recent NRC letter to Entergy may have cast a shadow over the utility’s plans.

In April, the state of Vermont vetoed the NRC decision, claiming that issues of reliability and cost gave the state reason to believe the plant should be closed permanently. The local subsidiaries of Entergy then filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming it could not have that veto power over the NRC decision. But the state law suddenly held more weight on August 10, when the NRC decided to hold the company to financial standards of a plant that was originally set to close by 2012 despite earlier decisions the plant could stay open longer.

Since March 31, 1999, law 10. CFR 50.75 (f)(1) has required every US nuclear power plant to report to the NRC on the status of a reserve fund, which would pay for possible radiological decommissioning costs should that need to occur. The operating company must show the NRC it has a return on investment of 2%.

In 2009, the NRC found the Vermont Yankee plant to be $40 million short for its required fund and Entergy responded by creating a parent company that would guarantee the plant for a decommissioning in 2012. But when Entergy asked the NRC to close its parent company, because its newly-approved closing date of 2032 would give it enough time to create a decommissioning fund from within the Vermont Yankee plant, the commission said it could not approve the request.

“We’re telling Entergy that cancellation of the $40-million Parent Company Guarantee for the Vermont Yankee decommissioning fund would be ‘premature’ given the unresolved legal challenge,” NRC Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan told Breaking Energy.

“I don’t think you can read more into our letter than it is,” Sheehan said. The NRC is not taking side regarding the court case, he said, but only wants to ensure the plant is sufficiently covered for risks should the court rule in favor of the state of Vermont.

But the office of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin called the NRC decision a victory for its case.

“The governor has said repeatedly that Entergy Louisiana just doesn’t do business the way we do business in Vermont,” said a spokesperson for the office, Sue Allen. “We were confident the ruling would not go the other way. It was pretty evident that this should have been the outcome.”

Entergy representatives said the company could not disclose more information than was already published in formal letters because of the ongoing lawsuit.