Vermont Yankee nuclear plant asks Public Service Board to wrap up stalled review, issue state license for another 20 years; U.S. NRC, which approved extension last March, filed legal papers answering complaints regarding internal process

MONTPELIER, Vermont , February 1, 2012 () – The fight over the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant moved Tuesday from a federal courtroom back to the state panel that regulates utilities, as plant owner Entergy Corp. asked the Public Service Board to wrap up its stalled review and issue a state license for another 20 years of operation.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which gave its own approval for a 20-year extension for the nuclear plant last March, filed legal papers hitting back at complaints by the state and a nuclear watchdog group that it issued the extension when the plant didn't have a needed water-quality certificate.

New Orleans-based Entergy on Tuesday filed a motion asking the Public Service Board to reopen its review of whether to grant the Vermont Yankee a state permit called a certificate of public good.

The board had been blocked from completing that review by a state law that said the Legislature had to give its OK first — something lawmakers had not done. But that law was overruled by Judge J. Garvan Murtha of the U.S. District Court in Brattleboro on Jan. 19, clearing the way for the Public Service Board action to resume.

Entergy argued in its motion that completion of the board's review and issuance of its new certificate should move quickly, saying that the board had heard all the issues before the matter was effectively put on hold by the Legislature.

"Vermont Yankee respectfully submits that its employees, investors, neighbors and the public at large would benefit from the clarity and certainty that would result from this Board's prompt decision based on the existing record," it said.

But Raymond Shadis, technical adviser with the group New England Coalition, said in an interview Tuesday that the board should consider several issues before issuing the certificate sought by Entergy.

"The parties, New England Coalition in particular, have no intention of allowing Entergy a free pass in this process," Shadis said. "All the information flowing into the case ended in early 2009. All the testimony is stale. There have been many so-called watershed events since then."

Among the unresolved issues, Shadis said, were misstatements Vermont Yankee employees allegedly made to the board during earlier stages of the case in which they said the plant did not have the sort of underground piping that carried radioactive materials. In early 2010, it was revealed that such pipes not only existed, but were leaking tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, into soil and groundwater surrounding the plant.

Shadis also pointed to the nuclear disaster triggered by the earthquake and tsunami last March in the Japanese region of Fukushima, where three of six reactors melted down, there were multiple hydrogen explosions and widespread contamination of the surrounding region.

The Fukushima reactors were the same make and about the same age as Vermont Yankee. The NRC has been considering what physical changes U.S. boiling water reactors like Vermont Yankee might need to make following the experience in Japan.

"There are several physical, mechanical fixes that might be required," Shadis said. "We don't know the shape of them yet."

The NRC's filing at the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington came in response to a lawsuit — it began as separate suits by the state of Vermont and Shadis' group, but the court combined them. The suit alleged that the NRC's issuance of Vermont Yankee's 20-year license extension was improper because the plant had not obtained a water-quality certificate that the parties bringing the legal action said was required as part of the license application.

The NRC argued that the state and the Coalition should have raised their complaints during the five-year period it was reviewing Vermont Yankee's license extension request.

"Raising legal objections only after that process is over undermines and diminishes that process, creates confusion, and wastes scarce judicial resources," the agency's lawyers said.

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