Monday February 25, 2013

BOB AUDETTE

Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO -- Despite the uncertainty over the continued operation of Vermont Yankee, a spokesman for the nuclear power plant in Vernon said it will go ahead with its regular 18-month refueling this spring.

It will be the 30th refueling at the plant since it went online in 1972.

In the past, refueling operations have taken about four weeks, but Yankee spokesman Rob Williams wouldn't comment on exactly when the process would begin or how long it would take.

Williams would also not comment on how much the process costs, but the Reformer has reported that the previous refueling operation, which lasted 25 days and was completed on Nov. 2, 2011, cost about $100 million, which included the price of fuel and the additional 1,100 contractors and 60 employees from other Entergy plants required for the job. Williams said the refueling outage adds about $2.5 million in economic activity to the area.

During the refueling, one-third of the plant's 368 fuel assemblies will be replaced. The remaining fuel assemblies will be rearranged to maximize power output.

Williams said work planned during the outage includes replacing and refurbishing some components; general preventative maintenance; replacing a large transformer; overhauling one of the three feed-water pumps; and replacing a recirculation-pump motor.

"Our focus is on the safe operation of the plant," said Williams. "During the outage, we will be very much focused on industrial safety."

In 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved an extended 20-year license, allowing Entergy to operate the plant until 2032. Entergy also needs a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board to continue operating the plant. The CPG that was issued in 2002 after Entergy bought the plant expired on March 21, 2012, and the plant is currently operating with the old certificate while the PSB considers its application.

Meanwhile, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing an appeal by the state of a federal court ruling that struck down a number of conditions in state statutes regarding the plant's continued operation. In addition, the Vermont Supreme Court is reviewing a petition filed by the New England Coalition calling for the plant's closure. An energy analyst with UBS has suggested Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, may shut it down because it isn't generating enough cash.

During an earnings call on Feb. 8, Leo P. Denault, who took over as Entergy Chairman and CEO after J. Wayne Leonard retired, admitted as much.

"It will come as no surprise to you that some of our (Entergy Wholesale Commodities) nuclear plants are challenged," he said. "While we will not get into these specifics around individual EWC plant economics, I will say that there are years when certain plan''s cash flows can be negative at today's forward price curve."

During the earnings call, Denault said the appeals court decision could come by mid-year.

"(G)iven the Federal District Court rulings and the absence of any state ruling prohibiting operation, we will continue to operate until final decisions are reached in the federal case and in the certificate of public good proceeding before the (Vermont Public Service Board)," said Denault.