Nuclear industry decries Dec. 29 shutdown of Vermont Yankee

Entergy (NYSE: ETR), as it has said it would do for some time due to factors like depressed wholesale power market prices, has permanently shut the 605-MW Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Said Entergy in a brief Dec. 29 statement: “Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station completed its 30th and final operating cycle at 12:12 p.m. local time Monday when operators discontinued the flow of power to the electric grid. By inserting control rods into the reactor core, operators stopped energy production from the splitting of uranium atoms and ended four decades of nuclear electricity generation on the Connecticut River in Vernon.”

Entergy said in a Dec. 8 presentation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that reactor defueling is expected to be complete by mid January 2015, at which point the certifications of permanent cessation of operations and permanent removal of fuel from the reactor vessel will be submitted in accordance with federal regulations. The company doesn’t plan to start removing major equipment until the year 2069, with site restoration to be complete in 2073. The total estimated shutdown cost is over $1.2bn.

Nuclear Matters co-chair Judd Gregg, a former U.S. senator from New Hampshire, issued a Dec. 29 statement on the closure of Vermont Yankee.

“The premature retirement of Vermont Yankee is representative of a problem that the entire country faces,” Gregg said. “Too many well-functioning nuclear energy facilities – most of which have decades of useful operating life remaining – are at risk of closure or have announced their early retirement. These conditions, including those surrounding Vermont Yankee’s, are caused by the unintended consequences of poorly designed market structure and government policies, not by the economic fundamentals of nuclear energy. This also signifies the importance of fuel diversity for power generation in the United States. Now is the time for all stakeholders to consider what can be done to prevent additional closures for the sake of electricity consumers, the environment, employees, communities, and the reliability of the electric grid.

“Vermont Yankee’s closure is especially concerning as we head into the Northeast winter, given that nuclear performed at a much higher capacity factor than any other fuel source during last year’s Polar Vortex,” Gregg added. “In addition, the plant contributes more than $60 million to the local economy each year through financial contributions, taxes paid, and employee involvement. Since 2002, having the facility on-line has saved New England customers approximately $330 million in electricity rate savings compared to the price of purchasing that same power from the spot market. Over the years, Vermont Yankee has prevented more than 50 million tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from being released into the environment. This is especially noteworthy as officials from New England’s grid operator have noted that the energy from Vermont Yankee will likely be replaced by other, carbon-emitting fuels. Finally, this closure means that hundreds of jobs will be lost, with company officials announcing that in January 2015, the plant’s staff will be reduced from about 550 employees to 316, with subsequent cuts planned after that.

“Signs of stress in our country’s reliable electricity grid cannot be ignored. It is simply unsustainable for the United States to continue down the path of allowing nuclear energy plants to close. Regulators, policymakers and industry must work together to ensure that nuclear energy is properly valued as a reliable, affordable and carbon-free electricity resource that is essential to America’s energy future and diverse fuel mix, and to ensure that existing nuclear plants are properly recognized in electricity markets for the value that they provide. Nuclear energy is safe, reliable, secure, and 100 percent carbon-free. This 24-7, 365 always-on source of electricity is key to our country’s success.”

Supporters of Nuclear Matters include: Ameren Missouri, Arizona Public Service, AREVA, Black & Veatch, Burns and Roe Enterprises, Duke Energy, Energy Future Holdings, Entergy, Exelon Corp., FirstEnergy, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, NextEra Energy, Omaha Public Power District, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern Co. and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.