Vermont Yankee nuclear plant teardown ahead of schedule

Twisted reinforcing bars are piled near the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.

Twisted reinforcing bars are piled near the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Twisted metal beams piled near the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, with the reactor containment building still standing, in Vernon, Vt.

Twisted metal beams piled near the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, with the reactor containment building still standing, in Vernon, Vt. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Scott State, CEO of NorthStar, talks to reporters outside the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont, on Oct. 10

Scott State, CEO of NorthStar, talks to reporters outside the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont, on Oct. 10 STAFF PHOTOS/PAUL FRANZ

Staff and journalists tour the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, with the reactor containment building still standing, in Vernon, Vt. on Tuesday.

Staff and journalists tour the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, with the reactor containment building still standing, in Vernon, Vt. on Tuesday.

A circa 1970 photo of the containment vessel being installed at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.

A circa 1970 photo of the containment vessel being installed at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.

The former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, with the reactor containment building still standing and the vertical cylinders at left containing the spent fuel rods, in Vernon, Vt.

The former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, with the reactor containment building still standing and the vertical cylinders at left containing the spent fuel rods, in Vernon, Vt. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Machines tear apart concrete at the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt.,  where the turbines once spun by steam heated in the reactor to create electricity.

Machines tear apart concrete at the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., where the turbines once spun by steam heated in the reactor to create electricity.

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 10-15-2023 3:00 PM

VERNON, Vt. — With the reactor building serving as one of the final structures standing, the decommissioning of the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been progressing steadily with a potential finish date four years ahead of its 2030 deadline.

Amid a teardown of the former turbine building’s foundation one day last week, officials from NorthStar, the company undertaking the $600 million decommissioning project, shared their planned decommissioning timeline of the controversial power plant.

“Our original schedule here was 2030; we committed to try and do it by 2026, and I think we’ll largely be done with the project in ’25,” said NorthStar CEO Scott State. Once complete, he said the site will be an empty field lot, with only the power substations, which are under lease to Vermont Electric Power Co., remaining on the property.

Entergy, the former owner and operator of the plant, closed the facility in 2014, citing the lack of profitability of Vermont Yankee in the energy economy. The plant began operation in November 1972 and faced decades of scrutiny from anti-nuclear activists. Decades later, Entergy, which purchased the facility for $180 million in 2002, also faced several lawsuits over the final decade of Vermont Yankee’s lifetime.

Despite emerging victorious through most of the litigation, Entergy still chose to close the site in 2014, even after receiving a 20-year license extension three years prior.

Since NorthStar took over the facility from Entergy in 2019, the company has efficiently demolished much of the site, including the cooling towers, turbine and other structures. State said the project is “on budget” and well ahead of schedule, despite not factoring a pandemic into the decommissioning timeline.

Corey Daniels, senior manager for the spent fuel storage installation for NorthStar, said the company has spent a collective 1.6 million hours on site without an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violation and no violations from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We’re proud of that safety record,” Daniels said, “and we have a highly trained and engaged staff here that continues to do the good work that is happening.”

Removing waste

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As of Aug. 31, NorthStar had sent a total of 685 shipments of waste by rail to a storage facility in Texas, amounting to approximately 39,188 tons of material, according to Daniels.

While the site is expected to be cleared in just a few years, there is a potential snag.

NorthStar is able to transport “low-level radioactive” materials, such as metal waste, for disposal, but the nuclear fuel that powered the reactor currently remains on the site because a license to an interim Texas storage facility was vacated.

The license was vacated after the Texas state government challenged the facility and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s authority to grant a permit for an interim waste facility, according to The Brattleboro Reformer.

State added that it is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s legal fight and there is the possibility the case could be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, State said the spent fuel will remain on the parcel until the federal and various state governments can find a solution. The spent fuel is in “very safe, stable condition,” but could take “hundreds to thousands of years” to fully break down.

“That facility will remain as it is today, fully guarded, until that fuel is gone,” State said. “I think, ultimately, there’s going to be some meeting of the minds among the various states that host nuclear facilities. I know Vermont has expressed interest in having that fuel moved to a permanent location or an interim location. … There’s a lot of parties at the table that have to come to some kind of conclusion.”

If the fuel is able to be moved, then the site will be fully open for unrestricted use and the future of the lot will depend on both Vernon’s desires for the parcel and if NorthStar is able to find its own use for the site.

“We’re also looking at things, like how can we help develop the site? We may find a use for the site and if Vernon would like us to continue owning it and just be a taxpayer, we’ll look at that as well,” State said. “There’ll be mapping that shows there’s foundations 4 feet below grade … but other than that, the site will be usable for anything.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.