BRATTLEBORO — The president and chief executive officer of the company that will make the dry cask storage system for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station said he is confident the product will last hundreds of years and withstand anything Mother Nature or man can throw at it.
That’s all well and good, Rowe, Mass., resident Deb Katz said, but she is still concerned because she lives 4 miles from where Yankee Rowe is storing its spent nuclear fuel, and she’ll be 16 miles from where Vermont Yankee’s will be kept.
“I’m less assured because of where I live,” she said.
Katz was one of about 30 people who attended a meeting of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel at Brattleboro Union High School Thursday night. She was also among citizens and panel members who peppered the company official, Kris Singh, with questions about Holtec’s HI-STORM 100 Dry Cask Storage System.
The Vermont General Assembly, the state’s legislative body, established the panel to advise it, the governor, state agencies and the public about matters connected to the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee. The panel, whose membership includes citizens and state and local officials from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, held its first meeting in September 2014.
Vermont Yankee, which came online in 1972, shut down in December 2014. The Vernon, Vt., plant is owned by Louisiana-based Entergy Corp.
The storage system is what Vermont Yankee officials have been, and plan to use to store spent radioactive fuel on the plant’s site.
Singh said Vermont Yankee officials selected the system in 1999, and in 2006 the Vermont Public Service Board issued a certificate of public good for construction of a dry storage facility at Vermont Yankee using the system.
As of today, there are 13 HI-STORM dry casks successfully loaded and safely stored at the plant, he said. Additional ones will be needed for the decommissioning process.
“This is the most low-risk system in the industry,” he said.
Each cask is about 11 feet in diameter and 18 feet high, he said, and is a double-walled, steel buttressed cylinder with concrete. The casks are made with no gaskets or seals, and surrounded by steel so no concrete is exposed to the environment, which would keep the canister from degrading.
Katz asked Singh if there was a contingency plan should a cask start leaking.
Singh said that if that happened, the leaking cask would be transferred into another dry cask.
Nancy Braus of Putney, Vt., asked how often the casks would be tested.
Singh said a canister can be tested at any time, and that will be part of the safety plan for the long-term storage at Vermont Yankee.
“So it’s up to Entergy,” Braus said.
“It’s not entirely Entergy,” Singh said. “We provide recommendations and the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) reviews them.”
Panel member Christopher Recchia, who is also the commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department, said Entergy officials are proposing to put the last of the spent fuel at Vermont Yankee into long-term storage in 2019-20. He asked Singh if there was anything in his company’s schedule that would prevent them from providing the dry casks needed for the decommissioning to the plant sooner.
“We don’t have manufacturing capacity constraints,” Singh said. “We can load sooner.”
In other business, members of the panel formed a committee to determine the process it would follow to give opinions to state and federal agencies and officials, and on what topics it would offer those recommendations.
Panel Chairwoman Kate O’Connor said the committee will meet in July and August with the plan of bringing a report to the 19-member panel at its Sept. 24 meeting. She expects the report will include some recommendations the panel can discuss and possibly vote on, she said.
Panel members Chris Campany, state Rep. David Deen, James Matteau and Martin Langeveld will serve on the committee.
Panel member Dr. William Irwin said up to this point the panel has been reacting to matters surrounding the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.
“I think we’re in great position to do what is the core of our mission, which is to provide advice to various parties of the state based on what we’ve heard,” he said. “I think this is a good opportunity to get us out in front.”
Matteau suggested the panel may want to start by making recommendations on ongoing issues about Entergy’s use of the decommissioning trust fund, and the firm going through the process with the Vermont Public Service Board of getting a certificate of public good for a second pad for a dry cask storage system.
That process is in the discovery phase with hearings scheduled for this summer and fall.
Campany said while it’s “awesome” to have state officials available to advise the panel, members should consider having access to an independent expert as they move forward in forming their opinions and making recommendations.
“I know this costs money, but this is kind of important,” he said.