By BOB AUDETTE / Brattleboro Reformer Staff
BRATTLEBORO — The last day of operations for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been set at Dec. 29, according to Mike McKinney, the power plant’s emergency preparedness manager.
McKinney was speaking July 25 at the annual Emergency Preparedness Zone meeting, in which representatives from the state and from the Vermont towns inside the EPZ around Yankee convened to discuss funding and issues related to the plant’s operation.
McKinney told the attendees that Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee, has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to amend its license to allow it to shrink its zone of responsibility to within the fence line of the plant by April 2016.
“Any offsite emergency support will be limited to local police and fire departments, ambulance services and hospitals,” he said. “At that point, we will become your typical industrial-type facility.”
In previous decommissionings around the nation, the NRC has allowed operators to reduce their emergency response obligations because the dangers associated with storing spent fuel aren’t as significant as those associated with an operating reactor, said McKinney.
“You no longer have the motive force and high temperature associated with the steam.”
The fuel pool itself is regulated at 95 degrees, said McKinney, while the reactor operates in excess of 500 degrees.
In asking the NRC for an amendment to its license, he said, Entergy has conducted analyses of fuel-handling accidents, loss of spent fuel cooling and zirconium cladding fires.
“We have used all the latest NRC guidelines as well as actual industry experience.”
In addition to reducing its support of offsite emergency response, Entergy has also applied to the NRC to reduce its control room staff to reflect the plant’s closure.
“Our focus will primarily be on any equipment supporting spent fuel cooling,” said McKinney. “Because an accident involving an operating reactor is no longer there, it affords the emergency response organization much more time to implement mitigation actions.”
However, McKinney noted, the reduction in staffing doesn’t affect the operators’ ability to monitor potential or actual consequences of a radiological emergency, such as dose assessment.
He also said that along with shrinking its emergency response footprint, Entergy would no longer support the emergency tone alert radios supplied to area residents or the emergency sirens placed throughout the EPZ.
“Some of the towns would like to have them for other purposes,” said McKinney. “If they would like to keep them, we will work out a plan to turn them over and if they don’t want to keep them, we will arrange to have them removed.”
It is expected that all the fuel will be removed from the reactor by the end of January 2015 and all the fuel will be moved out of the spent fuel pool and into dry casks by the end of 2020, said McKinney.
“After April 2016 the fuel will be cooled off and there will be no credible accident that would result in a release beyond the site boundary.”
One thing that won’t change substantially, said McKinney, is security, which will largely stay intact.
“There will be some changes, but I can’t disclose them. We will still have a large presence on site.”
While the participating towns will receive a $32,000 base grant for their emergency operations for 2015, if Entergy is granted the exemption by the NRC, it will no longer be required to continue to supply the funds to the state. In 2015, the total in funds coming from Entergy is $2.1 million, according to Erica Bornemann, planning section chief Vermont Division of Emergency Management & Homeland Security.
If and how the state will continue to find ways to fund offsite emergency response, she said, is still under discussion.
“We have taken the stance that we don’t think that offsite response should be reduced in the way it is reflected in federal regulations,” said Bornemann. “However, until we have an accurate picture of what it should look like, I can’t speak to the funding that will be necessary. We feel there is a need for a baseline capacity, just like there is a baseline capacity across the state for all other kinds of hazards, but we have to work out the details and look at the specifics.”
In addition to the base grants, towns are allowed to apply for additional expenses related to emergency management.
“But we will be taking a hard look at any of those additional costs that are submitted to us because the plant won’t be operating,” said Bornemann. “There are going to have to be some pretty serious extenuating circumstances to justify them.”
The town of Westminster, which is considered a reception center town, will receive $19,000 for its operations at Bellows Falls Union High School.
Despite the plant’s imminent closure, there will be a number of emergency exercises in the next year, said Bornemann.
On Oct. 8, there will be an exercise involving full town and state participation and in December there will be an exercise at the reception center in Westminster. In 2015 there will be what is called a hostile action-based exercise, including a full-scale graded exercise in May.
“The hostile action-based exercise will not be based on an operating reactor,” said Bornemann.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.