NRC Board Denies Vermont's Petition To Force Entergy To Maintain ERDS

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on Wednesday denied the state of Vermont's request for a hearing designed to force Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and Entergy Nuclear Operations to maintain an operational status regarding its Site Emergency Plan, which includes its Emergency Response Data System.

In a decision that may serve as a precedent for companies decommissioning plants in the future, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a judicial division of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that the state of Vermont had petitioned for a hearing in a timely manner, but that the state was also challenging an NRC regulation, which made its petition inadmissible.

One judge on the panel disagreed with the decision. “Judge Wardwell agrees that Vermont submitted a timely petition and has standing, but he disagrees with the conclusion that Vermont's contention is not admissible,” the board said in a 24-page decision.

Entergy shut down the 620 MWe General Electric-designed boiling water reactor in Vernon, Vt., for economic reasons, despite having years left on its operating license. Before its shutdown, the power plant generated three-quarters of the electricity produced in the state, amounting to a third of Vermont's electricity consumption.

Entergy, the board said, had sought permission to reduce Vermont Yankee's on-shift staffing and Emergency Response Organization staffing to reflect the decreased risk of an incident at the plant due to its shut down and “defueled reactor condition.” The state argued that the company must either keep its ERDS (Emergency Response Data System) operational or provide a new, equally effective monitoring and warning system “to supply Vermont with radiation monitoring information, meteorological information and containment parameters relevant to spent fuel pool conditions for as long as fuel remains in the pool.”

The board noted that ERDS program was a response to the 1979 incident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, but that plants undergoing decommissioning were exempt from the regulation.

“Expressly excluded from the proposed rule were those nuclear power reactor facilities 'that are permanently or indefinitely shut down,'” the board said.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Wardwell said the exemption for plants that were permanently shut down only applied to plants that "were already shut down at the time of the rulemaking and not to plants at which an ERDS was later installed."

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