Bill gives lawmakers final say on nuclear plant extension

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(Host) A bill before the state Senate gives lawmakers the final say on whether Vermont’s only nuclear plant could operate for another 20 years.

Backers of the bill say Vermont faces some big decisions about its energy future, and that the Legislature needs to be part of that debate.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The license for Vermont Yankee expires in 2012.

But Entergy, the company that owns the plant, wants to run the reactor for another 20 years beyond that date.

Yankee needs permission from federal regulators and from the Vermont Public Service Board. Under the Senate bill, lawmakers would also get to vote up or down on the license extension.

Washington County Democratic Senator Ann Cummings chairs the Finance Committee.

(Cummings) “The board will do its certificate of public good. They have legal criteria they need to go by. But there’s also a policy decision. Is it in the best interest of the state of Vermont? Do we as a policy making body want to see nuclear energy continue in this state and if we do, under what conditions and circumstances?”

(Dillon) Senator Rod Gander, a Democrat from Windham County, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

(Gander) “The energy future of Vermont is paramount and terribly important. We all know that. This will be one of the biggest decisions on the energy front that we have to make. And it would seem – I would say almost derelict of the Legislature – if they didn’t weigh in.”

(Dillon) Entergy doesn’t like the legislation. The company went through a lengthy negotiation with lawmakers last year over a plan to expand storage of nuclear waste near the Vernon reactor.

That bill says Entergy has to come back to the legislature for permission to expand radioactive waste storage beyond 2012. So Entergy spokesman Brian Cosgrove says lawmakers already have control over Yankee’s future.

(Cosgrove) “I think to add another bill requiring legislative approval is redundant. Which one do we put our faith in? If the Legislature doesn’t want it to go forward they could just deny the ability to store spent fuel on site and that would in effect be shutting down the plant and canceling any re-licensing. So this really I think is redundant. It’s pounding the same peg twice.”

(Dillon) House Speaker Gaye Symington says the legislation is not redundant.

She says the Legislature will want to look at other issues besides nuclear waste. And she says that the Legislature 35 years ago asserted its oversight over nuclear power when it first approved Vermont Yankee.

(Symington) “It’s only right for Vermonters to have that check point. And I think that… the wording of the initial legislation around Vermont Yankee demonstrated that people expected that kind of review “

(Dillon) But Governor Jim Douglas says the legislation is not necessary. He says the Public Service Board will carefully review the license extension.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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