Vote Due on Nuclear Waste Storage

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(Host) A House committee will vote soon on legislation to allow Vermont Yankee to store its radioactive waste near the Connecticut River.

Legislators want to levy a charge on the waste, and use the money to fund renewable energy and conservation projects. But the Douglas Administration is opposed to the idea.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) For several weeks, lawmakers in the cramped committee room have taken a crash course in nuclear power issues.

Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, needs legislative approval to move its old fuel rods out of the reactor building and into large concrete and steel casks near the Connecticut River.

It’s supposed to be a temporary solution, until a federal depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada opens sometime in the next decade. But the Yucca facility may never open. And during a hearing this week, Tony Klein, a Democrat from East Montpelier, talked about the dilemma he feels Vermont faces if it authorizes a waste site here.

(Klein) “What I’m struggling with, is that to do that, I am fearful that we would have to create, based on what going’s on with the feds in Yucca Mountain, what would end up being a permanent highly radioactive waste dump here in Vermont. And I don’t know whether Vermonters want that, or whether they know that. And I’m struggling with what the rewards, and the risks are, that are involved in that.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers may in fact have little choice. Yankee says it has to move waste of the spent fuel pool and into the dry casks in order to keep operating until its license expires in 2012. Yankee’s electricity now sells for a comparatively low price, and few in the Legislature want to shut the plant down prematurely.

So they’re looking, as Klein says, at the risks and rewards of dry cask storage. The rewards may come in the form of a state charge assessed on the waste. Robert Dostis, a Democrat from Waterbury, is chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

(Dostis) “Any charge that we can gain from the storage of dry cask to be used for renewable energy, energy efficiency, conservation, combined heat and power will mean that that’s much less energy that we’re going to have to go to the market to purchase.”

(Dillon) Dostis and many of his committee members see the Yankee money as a way to help fund new energy sources that will be needed when
the plant goes off line.

But the Douglas Administration doesn’t like the idea of a charge or tax on Yankee’s waste. Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says it’s too risky to place additional financial burdens on a plant that provides low-cost electricity to the state.

(O’Brien)” I think that legislators in terms of weighing this issue cannot forget that the very same folks that may be beneficiaries of a tax, directly or indirectly, on the casks, are the very same people that already benefit from this power supply and how favorable it is. And that’s a very, very delicate situation to manage.”

(Dillon) The committee hopes to vote early next week on the dry cask legislation.

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

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