Vermont Senate Blocks Nuke Plant License
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Vermont senators became the first state lawmakers in the country to vote for shutting down a nuclear power plant Wednesday when they denied a 20-year extension to the Vermont Yankee facility, scheduled to close in 2012.
Vermont Yankee has been embroiled in controversy since January when the plant announced it was leaking tritium, a radioactive substance that can be dangerous if ingested in large quantities, into groundwater near the plant. Plant officials later acknowledged misleading investigators while under oath, sparking a criminal investigation by the state attorney general. The plant provides about a third of Vermont's power and employs 650 people.
In most states, decisions over nuclear power plants are handled by state regulators or the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But Vermont lawmakers included a provision in a 2006 law that requires approval from both houses of the legislature and the governor before the state's Public Service Board could take up the power plant's license extension. The Senate's 26-4 vote means that the 37-year-old plant will not be able to bring its request before the state board.
"Any state rendering a decision to shut down a plant would be new territory," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told the Associated Press last week. "It's typically not a realm that the states have been involved in."
After a wave of shutdowns in the 1970's, the last nuclear reactor to go offline was in 1998, according to the NRC. Recently, however, nuclear energy has been making a comeback. President Obama last week announced more than $8 billion in loan guarantees for two new reactors in Georgia.
This is an election year in Vermont, which means it's possible that the next Senate could take up the licensing issue again in 2011 and vote differently, said David Coriell, a spokesman for Republican Governor Jim Douglas, who is not running for reelection. Douglas has strongly criticized the plant's management but asked the Senate to put off the vote while state and federal investigations are underway.
Coriell called Wednesday's action "a largely symbolic vote" since it could be reversed. "Basically, nothing has changed," he said.
The day before the vote, Vermont Yankee officials offered the state a lower price for electricity, but the Senate turned them down.