Vermont Yankee Opponents Say Water Permit Could Force Plant To Close

Jul 5, 2012

A loss late last month in federal appeals court has limited the state’s options to challenge Vermont Yankee’s operating license.

Opponents of the nuclear power plant are now pinning their hopes on a permit that Yankee needs to release hot water into the Connecticut River.

But the state of Vermont says it won’t be issuing that permit any time soon.

A loss last week in federal appeals court has limited the state's options to challenge Vermont Yankee's operating license.

Plant opponents are now pinning their hopes on a permit that Yankee needs to release hot water into the Connecticut River.

Entergy Vermont Yankee uses the Connecticut River to cool its reactor, and it needs a discharge permit from the state to release warm water back into the stream.

For years, the plant's been operating with an expired permit. The Connecticut River Watershed Council says the old permit doesn't protect the river from thermal pollution. David Deen is the council's river steward. He says the permit allows Yankee to raise the river's temperature by 5 degrees overall, and by lesser amounts during warmer months.

"This is not good for the aquatic organisms that call the Connecticut River home," he says.

Deen says Entergy has told the state that the hot water from Yankee only affects the river locally, near Vernon. Yet he says the council's own experts reviewed the data and found the thermal plume went 20 miles downstream

"And it's raising the temperature of the river all the way down to Turner's Falls. And that's by Entergy's own science," he says. "Why the Agency of Natural Resources accepted their claim that it only affects the Vernon Pool has never made sense to us."

The state has been reviewing Yankee's request for a new permit for years. And the delay is frustrating for Deen and other environmentalists. Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, has represented the Watershed Council in the past. He says the state should not let Yankee release any hot water into the river.

"The state's been dinking around for six years now. Six years since the permit expired," he says. "They're way beyond any reasonable time frame to make a decision. All they've got to do is say, ‘No more discharge. That's it.'"

But state officials say it's not that simple. Justin Johnson is deputy commissioner of environmental conservation. He says requiring Entergy to use closed cycle cooling - meaning it has to run its fans and cooling towers all year - would be expensive for the company and has to be justified under the law.

With the lengthy history of litigation between the state and Entergy, Johnson says regulators want to get it right.

"We would like to make a decision as soon as possible," he says. "But obviously (we) want to make a decision that's legally defensible. It doesn't really help us to make a decision that may get overturned in the future."

And Johnson says the state is also waiting for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to issue new rules that cover thermal discharges.
An Entergy spokesman said Yankee's discharge permit has been upheld by the state Environmental Court and the state Supreme Court. The spokesman said the company opposes using the cooling towers on a year-round basis.