Despite state government concerns about nuclear power, Entergy announced today it will be moving forward with a scheduled refueling of its Vermont Yankee power plant in October. The plant currently provides a third of the state’s power.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission–the federal agency that oversees safety of nuclear plants nationwide–already approved a 20-year license extension for the plant on March 21. Although the plant’s initial 40-year license was set to expire in March 2012, Entergy’s announcement today that it would go ahead with the purchase of new uranium rods for refueling would make perfect sense, considering the NRC license extension, if it were not for the state’s attempt, on reliability grounds, to close the plant.
“The general assembly finds that Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee has had one of the highest percentage power increases of any plant in the country and now is applying for a 20-year life extension beyond its 40-year design. It is therefore the intent of the general assembly to determine on behalf of the people of the state of Vermont the reliability issues associated with operating ENVY for an additional 20 years after its scheduled closure in 2012,” reads the June 5, 2008 Vermont Act 189.
It took four years for the NRC to review Entergy’s application, submitted initially in January 2006, highlighting how lengthy the process has become for approval of nuclear power operations even at existing units.
Duke Energy recently purchased a minority interest in another firm’s planned new nuclear units in South Carolina, even though it has its own new nuclear plant proposed for a nearby site. See Duke Proposes New Nuclear Buy.
“It went through a very detailed review before we reached decision to relicense,” NRC Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan told Breaking Energy. He said that Energy’s application was evaluated for safety and environmental standards and was also reviewed by an independent body, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.
He said he is confident the plant would operate safely and that the NRC–under the Atomic Energy Act–has full jurisdiction to make that decision, but said the state has raised different concerns, on reliability grounds.
The state’s claims prompted Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC and Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc., two subsidiaries of Entergy, to press Vermont in federal court on the validity of its order to close the plant.
This document, filed on July 18, is the court’s initial decision to deny the preliminary injunction of the Entergy subsidiaries. Entergy had sought an immediate answer because it needs to purchase new fuel well in advance to continue smooth operation. A nuclear power plant typically refuels every 18-24 months, replacing about a third of its reactor core.
Entergy’s decision to go ahead with the purchase of new fuel undepins the company’s optimism that the state concerns will be overruled, despite an initial ruling that denies its move to speed up a ruling and adds new risk to the decision to proceed with refueling.
“The motion [to accelerate the decision] is denied, because Entergy has failed to show that any irreparable harm it may incur between now and a decision on the merits would be, or is likely to be, ameliorated by a preliminary injunction in the short time before this Court decides Entergy’s claims,” the court wrote.
A full trial is scheduled to begin September 12.
Several recent cases have put the issue of state versus federal regulatory power in the spotlight. Read: Sharpening Pain: Merger Challenged On Pollution Grounds.