Despite financial difficulties facing a NorthStar affiliate company in Texas, officials say there will be space in the low-level radioactive waste facility for all of the waste and debris from the demolition of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Peter Bradford, one of Vermont’s two members of the Texas-Vermont Low Level Radioactive Waste Compact, and himself a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told members of the state nuclear panel Monday night that while the finances of Waste Control Specialists, the private facility, were shaky, he was confident it would still be in business when Yankee’s demolition is completed.
“There’s still a good deal of capacity left,” Bradford told the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel. “Capacity is not likely to be a problem.”
Waste Control Specialists is owned by the same company that owns NorthStar Group Services, the company that owns Vermont Yankee and is demolishing the Vernon plant. And the waste company, with a different partner, wants to build a high-level radioactive storage facility, immediately to the north of the low-level site. The site is on the Texas/New Mexico border, Bradford said.
High-level radioactive waste includes spent nuclear fuel and some highly irradiated nuclear reactor parts. Low-level waste can range from contaminated gloves to debris from a demolished building at Vermont Yankee. High-level waste is the responsibility of the federal government, while states must make sure there is a facility for low-level radioactive waste, which also includes medical waste.
Bradford, who now lives in the town of Peru, said that Waste Control Specialists had made overly optimistic estimates on how much low-level radioactive waste would be shipped to its Texas facility, and as a result it has run into financial troubles. There are only a handful of such sites in the country.
Waste Control Specialists faced “considerable financial difficulty,” as a result, Bradford said.
Bradford said nuclear companies across the country are holding on to their low-level waste, rather than shipping it to Texas, to save money. The so-called “nuclear renaissance” of about a decade ago has fizzled, he said.
The nuclear industry is hard-pressed financially, Bradford said, because of the relatively low cost of electricity and natural gas, increasing renewable energy, and lower demand for electricity and conservation, leading to the closure of several nuclear reactors — including Vermont Yankee.
Bradford is one of two Vermonters on the panel that governs a 1990s waste compact agreement with Texas and Vermont on handling low-level waste. The Waste Control Specialists facility only opened in 2011, Bradford said.
Members of the panel and area citizens took the opportunity to plumb Bradford’s knowledge about nuclear issues, in particular the high-level radioactive waste that is being stored at the Vermont Yankee site.
Bradford was asked about the potential for federal pre-emption when it comes to the proposed high-level waste site in Texas. While the NRC granted Waste Control Specialists and its partner a permit last week, the state of Texas passed a law the week earlier prohibiting such a facility, setting up a showdown.
If the high-level facility is built, Vermont Yankee’s 58 casks of highly radioactive nuclear fuel are expected to be shipped there, Scott State, the chief executive officer of NorthStar, said earlier in the day on Monday during a tour of the Yankee site.
He called the Texas reaction “understandable,” and said he expected Vermont would have acted the same way.
Bradford said that while Texas and Vermont’s politics are usually quite different, the seven commissioners on the low-level waste panel work together without any problems.
“The meetings have no flavor of partisanship,” Bradford said. The other Vermont member on the panel is Richard Saudek, who during Gov. Richard Snelling’s administration was chairman of the Vermont Public Service Board and commissioner of the Department of Public Service — at the same time.
Bradford noted that when the Vermont Legislature passed laws that would have made it difficult for Entergy Nuclear, Yankee’s then-owner, from continuing to operate beyond its original license, both Entergy and the NRC challenged the Vermont law — and won in the federal courts. It was only after winning the federal lawsuit in 2013, that Entergy announced it was closing Vermont Yankee because of economics.