Click photo to enlarge
Aerial view of Vermont Yankee, Vernon-based nuclear plant currently in decommissioning process.

BRATTLEBORO >> Emergency planning in towns near Vermont Yankee is being cut down as the nuclear plant continues down the decommissioning path.

"Over the past couple of weeks, I've been working with emergency management and basically what we've been doing is working to condense our three-ring binder for radiological plan down," Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi told the Selectboard Tuesday. "It will be greatly condensed once the draft's done."

The document will become more of an annex to the town's emergency operations plan, he said, before listing dates of importance.

The plant shut down on Dec. 29, 2014. All the fuel rods were removed from the reactor on Jan. 12, 2015, and put into the fuel cooling pool towers.

"The magic date seems to be April 15," Bucossi said. "That's when the timing, I guess in the nuclear world, when everything seems to start changing. And those rods will now be cool enough where they'll be considered cool wet storage."

If all stays on schedule, he said, "everything will change as we know it today," meaning the chance of an off-site emergency is greatly reduced.

Only a "catastrophic" event — like if all the water is released from the cooling pools and the fuel then reheats — would require a response from outside towns. And even then, according to plant owner Entergy, an emergency would unfold slowly.

"We'd have anywhere from 10 hours to 10 days to react," said Bucossi, "and reverse the process of those fuel rods."


Advertisement

Starting in April, Vermont Yankee will have at least one person on site who is trained to extinguish basic fires and act as liaison to off-site agencies, said Martin Cohen, senior spokesman for Entergy Vermont Yankee.

"If we cannot extinguish fire ourselves, then Vernon will take lead," he said.

And there won't be an emergency reception center at Bellows Falls Union High School either. Bucossi said the Red Cross will set up shelters in the case of an emergency.

Brattleboro's Division of Emergency Management Department and Homeland Security office on the third floor of the Municipal Center will close June 24.

"After April 16, the emergency planning zone shrinks to the site boundary, therefore what also happens correspondingly is the number of people in the emergency response organization is shrinking. That's why we're having the next round of separations," Cohen said. "On May 5, we'll be down to 157 people (from approximately 300)."

Currently, the plant has 13 dry cask storage containers on a dry cask pad. They are all full, said Bucossi, so Entergy is looking for permits to install a second pad.

After Bucossi noted the dates were subject to change, Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Kate O'Connor put in a disclaimer for the timeline. She sits on the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, which will meet again on Feb. 25 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Brattleboro Union High School and will get decommissioning updates from the state and Entergy.

"This is Entergy's take," she said. "There are some issues going on between the state and Entergy right now that won't change this significantly but could change it a little bit."

The fuel won't be completely moved from the pools to dry casks until 2020, she said, but there are calls for more of an emergency-response presence when fuel begins moving next year. That could change staffing and security plans at the plant, added Bucossi.

The debate involves some saying there's a bigger danger for emergency events than Entergy is letting on, O'Connor told the board.

"Entergy says, and they have some data to back up what they're saying, that there's less of a risk of something happening there because the fuel is now in the pool and not in the reactor," she said. "But there are some people who say, 'It's still there and it's not in the casks yet. And what happens when you're moving that stuff from here to there?'"

The state is talking with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about this now. The process is complicated by a lack of rules around decommissioning and Entergy has been applying for exemptions to rules made for active plants.

If there are any changes in the schedule, Bucossi said he thinks it will only be for the good of the community.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.