VERNON — Corey Daniels, decommissioning director at the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, stepped to the microphone under a color-splashed mural.
“Big picture,” he said of the larger job at hand, “there are a lot of moving parts.”
And, as the state’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel is learning, there are also a lot of monitoring possibilities and pitfalls.
Since the New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. stopped power production in 2014 and the New York-based cleanup company NorthStar Group Services bought the property last month, it has only sparked questions.
Vermont Yankee’s sale to NorthStar is a first in the nuclear power industry. The cleanup company, which hopes to decommission and restore the property as early as 2026, says it has begun to empty spent fuel pools and bring in necessary supplies.
Chris Campany, chairman of the state-established citizens advisory panel, urged the state and his peers at a public meeting Thursday night at Vernon Elementary School, to continue to carefully monitor the new owners of the plant.
“We have to think about what we do and how we do it going forward,” Campany said.
Allison Wannop, of the Public Service Department, agreed that the state needs to continue to oversee the decommissioning process.
“Our general role is to exercise oversight — to confirm the decommissioning is on task and on budget — but we’re still in the early phases of what kind of public engagement we can facilitate,” Wannop said.
The Agency of Natural Resources will monitor for site restoration standards and the Vermont Department of Health will inspect sources of radiation.
Legal enforcement has been led by the Attorney General’s Office. But at this point, Justin Kolber, an assistant attorney general said, “We’re kind of at a nice moment in time when we don’t have any pending litigation or legal proceedings.”
Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange County, and a panel member, questioned whether the state could guarantee sufficient discovery and disclosure when problems occur. MacDonald said the former owner, Entergy, was slow in reporting issues after an increase in power production in 2006.
“Where is the safeguard to see that doesn’t happen again?” MacDonald asked.
In response, June Tierney, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said she had confidence in the state’s ability to monitor the decommissioning process.
“I cannot imagine my department would engage in such conduct, but I can imagine the attorney general would be all over it,” Tierney said. “That would be your check. I think you have those assurances.”
MacDonald also wondered what would happen if the company ran out of the nearly $600 million in funds before the decommissioning is complete.
“If things don’t work out,” he said, “who’s left holding the bag?”
State officials didn’t anticipate that happening.
“For all of this money to be exhausted,” Wannop said, “you would have to assume we would go through more than $500 million while not noticing that all of these line items were going over budget.”
By Kevin O’Connor