By Beth Daley
Owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant filed a federal lawsuit this morning to prevent Vermont lawmakers from shutting the plant down when its 40-year license expires next year.
Vermont is the only state in the country that requires a nuclear plant to get legislative approval for a license extension. Last year, the state Senate voted 26-4 to close the Vernon plant, near the Massachusetts border.
The move comes just weeks after Vermont Yankee, owned by Entergy Corp. received approval to operate another 20 years from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and in the midst of a maelstrom of controversy about it's age and design. Vermont Yankee has the same design as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan that has caused widespread radiation releases following a massive earthquake and tsunami there.
We have made every reasonable effort to accommodate the state of Vermont and its officials while allowing the continued operation of Vermont Yankee an outcome that benefits all stakeholders, including Vermont consumers and the approximately 650 men and women who work at the plant, said Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is a critic of the plant and has pledged to shut it down.
The legal action, while expected, will be a showdown between state and federal authority. Entergy is arguing, in part, that the state has no authority over nuclear power plant licensing and operations or its radiological safety.
Yet Vermont lawmakers disagree. Long-simmering anti-nuclear sentiment in the state accelerated after the plant received NRC permission to increase its power output by 20 percent in 2006.
The next year, a cooling tower partially collapsed. The plant's safety was not compromised, but the events stoked public concerns about the adequacy of plant maintenance. Then last year, Entergy discovered elevated levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, leaking from underground pipes after company officials told state officials the pipes did not likely exist.
Other nuclear plants have been able to overcome local opposition because the NRC, not local legislators, has final say in whether the plants can be relicensed. In 2006, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring the Yankee plant to get its approval to continue operating after next year.
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