“This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us,” said Leo Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Vermont Yankee has an immensely talented, dedicated, and loyal workforce, and a solid base of support among many in the community. We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule was not the outcome they had hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.”
Supporters of the closure, including Gov. Peter Shumlin and Sen. Bernie Sanders, heralded Entergy’s decision as a step in the right direction for a future of clean energy. “The closure will allow Vermont to focus on leading the nation toward safer and more economical sources of sustainable and renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass,” said a press release from Sanders, a member of the Senate energy and environment committees.
Vermont Yankee is one of the country’s oldest and most controversial nuclear power plants. Beginning commercial operations in 1972, the single-boiling water reactor produces 620 megawatts of electricity using the Connecticut River as its source of cooling water. The plant has had a number of headline controversies in recent years including the collapse of the fourth cell of the west cooling tower in 2007, and the arrest of protestors at the plant, including six women between the ages of 64 and 93 in 2012. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the plant’s license to operate for 20 years in 2011.
The plant currently employs 630 full-time employees, over a third of whom live in Vermont. This week’s announcement has created a greater sense of urgency to some who see this spelling doom for a region of Vermont that already has the lowest annual income in the state. Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategy planning group released a study in March 2012, performed by their post-Vermont Yankee Task Force, that provided a look at the economic impact the closure would have on the region. The report detailed the closure would lead to the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs, including 617 to 650 at the plant itself, which totals a payroll of $68 million to $72 million annually. Other serious impacts listed include major declines in real estate, human capital (the number of people contributing to communities), and state and local tax revenues.
“The announcement by Entergy to close Vermont Yankee in 2014 significantly exacerbates the economic challenges facing southeastern Vermont,” said a SEVEDS press release. “This adds even more urgency to our need to act to implement existing and developing strategies.”
To combat those economic impacts, SEVEDS plans call for Windham County to be designated as a special economic development zone by the state, which will bring in designated funds for marketing, enhanced access to capital, and increased investment in local social resources. This, the report stated, will work to stave off any acceleration of the slow downward economic spiral of the last 15 years.
According to Laura Sibilia, task-force member, and director of economic development at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, the closure is sudden, but unlike Tropical Storm Irene, it was a foreseeable event. “ Right now we’re trying to figure out how to accelerate the planning,” said Sibilia. “After the flood I remember thinking ‘this much devastation will spur a lot of opportunity,’ and I think we’re starting to see that. This kind of severe impact will spur opportunity too, but needs all hands on deck.”
According to Sibilia, the region needed to add $60 million in payroll to meet the average wage of northern New England. The closure of Vermont Yankee, Sibilia said, will double that amount of need.
“This region was already in economic trouble,” said Sibilia. “Irene made it worse and so does this. The difference now is we have to move quickly. There are only so many body blows we can take but we’re pretty hearty down here.”
Across the state, the announcement comes as welcome news to many organizations, including Vermont Small Businesses for Social Responsibility (VSBR) which called the announcement a clear sign that Vermont should “stimulate the creation of affordable, clean, and local power from our farms and forests, our rivers, our sun, and wind.”
VSBR also noted that the the shutdown will create a “difficult transition” for employees and the surrounding communities. “VBSR hopes there are opportunities for ENVY workers to participate in the shutdown and decommissioning of the plant and that state officials are prepared to assist in job placement, training, and other support for those displaced by today’s decision.”
Decommissioning the plant will cost $566 million to meet NRC minimums. The Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust had a balance of approximately $582 million as of July 31.
According to Vermont Yankee’s website safecleanreliable.com, the decommissioning process may take decades, with the goal of turning the land into greenspace. Used fuel from the plant will remain on site, under guard. According to Entergy, removal of the fuel from the reactor vessel to a spent fuel pool is expected to begin as soon as the reactor has cooled sufficiently. The fuel will then be moved to NRC-licensed casks.
The fuel will remain onsite in dry casks until the federal government, in accordance with its legal obligations, removes it.