Anti-nuke coalition counters Vermont Yankee filing on preemption
From The Rutland Herald
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer – Published: September 12, 2010
MONTPELIER — The issue of federal preemption at the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor over last winter’s radioactive tritium leak continues to simmer.
In a filing Friday with the Vermont Public Service Board, the New England Coalition, a nonprofit anti-nuclear organization, said that Entergy Nuclear’s attempt to re-examine the issue of preemption is unnecessary and the company has failed to offer any valid reasons for another bite at the legal apple.
Vermont has every right to investigate and protect its groundwater, the coalition argued, and there is well-established evidence that such radiological leaks ultimately increase the costs of decommissioning.
The Vermont Public Service Board opened an investigation into the tritium leak at Vermont Yankee in February, to determine whether the leak had environmental or economic ramifications, particularly in the area of the ultimate decommissioning of the power facility and the contamination of groundwater.
The issue of federal preemption has ramifications beyond the board’s investigation, since Entergy Nuclear’s license extension request is still pending before the board. The Vermont Senate failed to endorse a license extension for Vermont Yankee in February, effectively putting the Public Service Board’s review of the license in limbo.
In earlier filings, Entergy Nuclear had challenged the board’s right to investigate the tritium leak, which is still being cleaned up. The leak, which was a result of several problems with the advanced off-gas drainage system, leaked more than tritium into the groundwater and ground at Vermont Yankee in Vernon.
The New England Coalition’s reply brief to legal documents filed in the case last month strongly criticized legal arguments raised by both Entergy and the attorney for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has about 180 union members working at the reactor. The IBEW had not raised any independent issues and was essentially echoing any legal arguments raised by Entergy, said the coalition’s attorney, Jared Margolis of Jericho.
Margolis said that Entergy “continues to confuse and misuse the applicable Supreme Court precedent” on the issue of nuclear preemption.
“Entergy has attempted, without valid support and through misusing the language of the Supreme Court, to alter the well-settled precedent creating dual jurisdiction over nuclear power general,” Margolis wrote in his brief.
Margolis noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has control over radiological safety levels, and was not something sought by the Vermont Public Service Board.
Robert Williams, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday.
Clay Turnbull of Townshend, a spokesman for the New England Coalition, said Saturday that Entergy continued to raise the preemption issue “that was settled a long time ago” rather than move forward with the Public Service Board’s investigation of the tritium leak.
The coalition believes that the leak, as well as the leak of other, more dangerous radiological materials such as strontium-90, cesium 137 and cobalt-60, will increase the costs of decommissioning Vermont Yankee and returning the Vernon site to the original 1968 promise of a “green field” after the plant shut down. Vermont Yankee’s federal license to operate and its state certificate of public good both expire in 2012.