Most declining plants are in blue areas, and Congress is taking notice
In Vermont, the relationship between the town of Vernon and its nuclear power plant, known as the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, had always been contentious.
From 1970s-era antinuclear protests to more recent legal battles over a proposal to extend the plant’s license, Vermont residents and their state legislature kept a skeptical eye on the power source, which at one point provided some 70 percent of the state’s electricity.
Still, when New Orleans-based Entergy announced in 2014 that it would close the plant by the end of the year and ahead of its intended closure in the 2030s, there wasn’t much celebration. Instead the community’s focus turned almost immediately to ensuring the plant was decommissioned as quickly and as safely as possible.
But as folks in Vernon and other communities across the country have learned as more nuclear plants reach the end of their operating lives, state and local governments have little legal or regulatory say over how companies approach the cleanup and radioactive legacy of their local nuclear power plants.
Adding to the tensions, federal regulators at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are perceived in some of these communities as overly deferential to plant operators, though those decisions are backed by risk analysis.
“You have no control,” said Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission in Brattleboro, Vermont. “There’s an illusion of engagement, but it’s really only between the operator and the NRC.”
In the case of Vermont, which passed a state law requiring a citizen’s advisory panel, Entergy and citizens engaged in a public dialogue that did introduce more transparency into the process but ultimately resulted in little say for the community, according to the former chairwoman of the panel, Brattleboro resident Kate O’Connor.
“It was really frustrating,” O’Connor said. “You come to the realization that there really are no rules for decommissioning.”
Those complaints have registered with Vermont’s congressional delegation.