The Shumlin Administration wants Vermont Yankee to pay more to help emergency officials respond to a nuclear accident.
The request for increased funds draws on lessons learned from Tropical Storm Irene and the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.
The administration added $770,000 last week to the proposed budget now under review in the Senate Appropriations Committee. But the state requires that Yankee reimburse the funds.
"It’s not taxpayer dollars. It’s part of the cost of doing business for a nuclear power plant," said Larry Crist, executive director of the Red Cross for Vermont and the New Hampshire Upper Valley.
Crist’s organization is charged with providing care and shelter for the public if an accident occurs at Vermont Yankee. Crist has pushed for additional funds for months, drawing on his analysis of what it would cost to shelter up to 6,000, and from the experience of two recent disasters.
"We have now had the benefit of both Tropical Storm Irene as well as the nuclear power plant accident in Japan," he said. "And there has been some tremendous lessons learned from both of those experiences as to what it will really mean if we ever had a major accident that requires sheltering, care and transfer of large numbers of people."
The $770,000 would be spread over two years. It’s a major jump in funding from previous years. But Crist said more people would have to be sheltered than previously estimated. And he said the Fukushima disaster showed that shelters have to be located further from the accident scene. In Japan, he said, some people had to be moved up three times as the disaster area grew.
"So this begins to really change the dynamic. Instead of six to 10 shelters we’re now looking at opening 22," he said. "Instead of having them just outside the emergency planning zone, the shelters are going to be located at least 50 miles away."
Entergy Vermont Yankee objects to the funding request. In a prepared statement, company spokesman Rob Williams said the Red Cross needs to be prepared. But he said the funding request is 20 times more than the state has recommended in recent years.
The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security supports the additional money. Erica Bornemann is the division’s planning chief. She said the state needs to have confidence it has sufficient resources to keep people safe.
"It affords us the flexibility to be able to respond to this type of incident," she said. "In my job I need to be able to look at folks who live in the area in the face, and look at my higher-ups within the administration and say, ‘yes, I’m confident that we can respond to this type of incident.’ And this allows us to do that within this area."
Adding weight to the argument from the Red Cross and the Shumlin Administration is a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The report was requested by Senator Bernie Sanders and others following the nuclear accident in Japan. The GAO found that federal regulators should consider whether emergency plans are needed for areas located outside the 10 mile evacuation zone that surrounds US nuclear plants.