State Senate pulls the plug on Vermont Yankee nuclear plant

Critics say Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was too old and had too many problems. This could be a blow for the Obama administration's plan to refurbish and revive aging nuclear power plants.

Toby Talbot/AP
Antinuclear citizens celebrate the vote on Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the State House in Montpelier, Vt., Wednesday. Vermont is the only state in the country with a law giving its legislature a say over a nuclear plant's relicensing.

The Vermont State Senate vote to retire the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is a blow to the hope for nuclear renaissance – because much of it involves renovating aging plants that critics say are just too old.

On Wednesday, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 to shut down the nuclear plant in 2012, as originally planned – apparently the first time a legislature has voted to close a nuclear plant. Louisiana-based Entergy had hoped to relicense the 40-year-old reactor, which had been criticized for collapsed cooling towers and other problems.

The decision may send a chill through other efforts to extend the lives of America’s aging fleet of 104 nuclear reactors. (See Monitor report on relicensing reactors here.)

Antinuclear groups are thrilled

“Vermonters sent a message to President Obama and the nuclear industry today,” Jim Riccio, Greenpeace’s nuclear policy analyst said in a statement. “The nuclear renaissance is dead on arrival. We can retire old, decrepit, and leaking reactors like Vermont Yankee and help usher in the energy revolution that America needs.”

Recent discovery of increased levels of tritium, a radioactive material in ground water, bolstered opposition in the Vermont legislature. Safety concerns had been tied to accusations that Entergy misled state officials on underground piping that may have been related to the leak.

"Don't do business with someone you can't trust," Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said prior to the vote, Dow Jones reported.

Entergy indicated it would try to reverse the decision.

Company vows to fight back

“The effort to win a 20-year renewal of Vermont Yankee's operating license is far from over,” the company said in a statement. “We remain determined to prove our case to the legislature, state officials and the Vermont public. The plant is a vital, safe, and reliable source of clean power for Vermont and the rest of New England, and we will continue communicating to the public the substantial economic and environmental benefits of keeping the plant operating beyond 2012.”

Nuclear critics said the Senate action was a vote of no-confidence in the nuclear industry.

“The Vermont Senate’s vote today to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant underscores the folly of the Obama administration’s plan to help the nuclear industry build new reactors throughout the country,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, in a statement. “With so many cost-effective energy alternatives available, such as wind and solar power, continued support for expensive, flawed and dangerous nuclear technology is unacceptable.”

Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry trade group, declined comment on the Vermont decision. But he noted that relicensing of nuclear reactors was going strong with 59 of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors already relicensed for 20 years or more years – with 19 more applications pending, including Vermont Yankee.

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