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No time to waste

Posted January 26, 2007

Federal officials will take on the issue of whether the rules governing spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants should be changed to take into account terrorist attacks. If changed, the rules could impact Entergy’s application to extend the license to operate Vermont Yankee.

This argument would never be taken up by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) if it weren’t for the Massachusetts attorney general.

That’s right, not because of Vermont officials, the home state of the power plant in question, but of a neighboring state that understands the growing danger that long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel presents to the general public, including the case of a terrorist attack.

Why?

Why is it that the attorney general of another state takes such an interest in this, while our attorney general is off chasing pharmaceutical and cigarette companies, and making sure that we keep the Abenaki “in their place” — unrecognized and invisible as they have been for generations.

In a 10-page ruling Jan. 23, the five-member panel that oversees the NRC said it would take up the issue raised by the Massachusetts attorney general, who had argued that the generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) filed to support the relicensure of Vermont Yankee was flawed because it did not take into account problems with overloaded spent fuel pools, or the effect of a terrorist attack on the fuel pool.

They know, as perhaps our attorney general and state officials don’t know, that VY’s spent fuel pool is stored high in the containment vessel, where protection is less.

The five-member NRC rejected the attorney general’s appeal to have their contention heard by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. Instead, the panel ruled that rulemaking changes were the appropriate venue to air these concerns.

If the NRC were to change rules, they would apply to the Vermont Yankee application and its GEIS, as well as its sister plant — Pilgrim — in Massachusetts.

“[D]epending on the timing and outcome of the NRC staff’s resolution of the Mass AG’s rulemaking petition, it is possible that the NRC staff could seek the commission’s permission to suspend the generic determination and include a new analysis in the Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee plant-specific environmental impact statements,” the NRC ruling stated.

The ruling comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that upheld a Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that said the NRC had to evaluate the impact of such a scenario when it reviewed long-term, dry cask storage plans at a plant in California. The NRC fought this ruling tooth and nail, and believes it only applies in the California case, and not across all applications.

Vermont could change the NRC’s tune by joining Massachusetts in raising concerns over the spent fuel pool and dry cask storage in general, as both an environmental threat and terrorist target.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell has until March 19 to make the state’s comments known on this matter. It’s time that Vermont officials stand up to the NRC, which is always quick to decide in favor of the nuclear power industry.

Urge the attorney general to focus on a real threat in our backyard, the threat of radioactive waste with nowhere to go for tens of thousands of years.
That is an environmental legacy we can afford to live without.

CORRECTION: Burlington Telecom, which is up and running in the Queen City, employs 25 people. To date, the utility has borrowed — structured through a capital lease — $22.6 million. It currently serves about 1,000 customers as well as all municipal government sites. It expects to cover the entire city by the end of this year or early 2008. Also, while it can cost about $1,000 per passed house to lay out fiber optic cable in a rural part of the state, compared to $250 per passed house in urban areas, it is not the entire cost of installing fiber-to-the-home in rural areas. To this must be added the cost of each installation (i.e., the fiber “drop” from the road to the premises plus all the connecting equipment). This adds another $1,700 - $1,800. Then there is the cost of connecting the local distribution network to a “hub” which provides services and connects to the outside world. The total varies widely depending on the specific area and the percentage of people who sign up. This information was unclear in a Jan. 16 article.