Vermont Yankee Nuclear Station Takes Vt. To Court

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The owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station are taking the state of Vermont to court. Depending on the outcome of the case, the plant could shut down next year or stay in service for another two decades.

Vermont Yankee's federal license was due to expire in less than a year, but last month the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a two-decade license extension. But Vermont legislators, its governor and others who want the plant closed say a state law — unique in the nation — gives the legislature what amounts to veto power over the future of the plant after next year.

Now Richard Smith, an executive at Yankee's owner, the Entergy Corp., has announced a lawsuit seeking federal preemption of Vermont's law.

"We came to one conclusion. We had no choice. We believe that the state of Vermont changed the rules on us," Smith said.

The 650-megawatt plant sits next to next to the Connecticut River, just north of the Massachusetts border, and it supplies relatively low-cost electricity to the New England power grid. Entergy's suit cites the supremacy and commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution. And Smith cited the needs of neighboring states.

"This issue is not just about Vermont. Retiring the plant would have an impact on the cost and reliability of service in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which receive power from Vermont Yankee on the wholesale market," Smith said. "Those states deserve consideration in this discussion."

"Entergy has said, and said repeatedly, that they would abide by Vermont law, and obviously they don't want to now," said William Sorrell, Vermont's attorney general.

Sorrell said the state will fight to make sure the plant closes next March, whether or not the federal judiciary has reached a final decision on the suit.

"Among other things that we will be litigating is that one, Vermont's lie is appropriate and legal, and that two,
when Entergy bought the plant, and subsequent to that, they made statements that they had every intention of abiding by Vermont law," Sorrell said.

Sorrell said if Vermont wins the case, that would set significant precedent for other state legislatures that may want to assert their own authority over nuclear power plants. And, he said, the state continues to pursue a separate criminal investigation concerning allegedly false statements Entergy officials made under oath about the existence of underground pipes at the plant, pipes which last year proved to be leaking irradiated water.

Fred Bever is news director of WFCR-FM in Amherst.

This program aired on April 19, 2011.


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