A Vermont nuclear reactor similar to the one operating in Plymouth will
be permanently shut down in a year because it's no longer financially viable.
Entergy Corp., the Louisiana-based company that owns both Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, announced Tuesday that the plant in the Green Mountain State will be taken offline in late 2014.
That announcement may raise the question of Pilgrim's future as well.
In its public statement, Entergy cited the low price of natural gas; the increasing cost of meeting federal standards, particularly for smaller, single reactors; and maintenance costs as the reasons for closing the 41-year-old plant.
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station opened in November 1972, just one month before Pilgrim went on line. Both plants use General Electric boiling water reactors, but differ somewhat in output, with Pilgrim producing about 10 percent more power than Vermont Yankee.
"If the dominoes are going to fall, Pilgrim should be next since it's the same reactor," said Harwich resident Diane Turco, co-founder of Cape Downwinders, an anti-nuclear group that has long questioned safety at Pilgrim. "Nuclear power is showing it can't compete in the market. If Entergy can't make a profit, they'll have difficulty putting money into repairs. It's sad for the workers, but public safety should be a priority."
David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim share the economic disadvantage of being older and smaller, requiring larger investments to keep them going while producing lower returns.
"Such factors were shared by two of the other reactors to permanently close this year -- Crystal River in February 2013 in Florida and Kewaunee in May 2013 in Wisconsin," Lochbaum wrote in an email. "Their size, solo stance and age meant that it cost more for them to generate electricity than larger, new and multi-unit nuclear plants. When electricity prices softened due to competition from non-nuclear sources, they were most vulnerable."
Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, agreed Tuesday that Pilgrim, as a single reactor, is at a financial disadvantage. But, Mohl added, "there are no current plans" to shut down Pilgrim.
"We've had our challenges with that facility this year," Mohl said, when asked about Pilgrim's five unplanned shutdowns in the last 14 months. "But we are very focused on improving that operation."
The modest three-year duration of Entergy's latest agreement with Plymouth for payments in lieu of taxes -- signed two weeks ago -- could be another indication the firm is keeping options open. The previous agreement was for 10 years.
Although Mohl said people "shouldn't read too much into" the short duration, he added, "We're always looking at holding and optimizing an asset, selling it or shutting it down."
Entergy said the full decommissioning of Vermont Yankee would take 10 years. Activities include removing the plant from service, transferring used fuel to safe storage, removing any residual radioactivity and restoring the site.
The spent fuel rods, which will be removed from the reactor shortly after it is taken offline, will need to cool for five years in pools before being moved to dry cask storage.
All rods will be kept on-site in dry casks until federal authorities come up with a plan for final storage of spent fuel rods.
Lochbaum noted the closure of Vermont Yankee ultimately could make Pilgrim's future a little brighter.
"While Vermont Yankee might not have been a large generator of electricity, its output must still be replaced by somebody," Lochbaum wrote. "If Pilgrim were close to closure, Vermont Yankee's closure might restore the margin necessary for Pilgrim to continue operating."
(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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