Energy & Environment

Vermont Yankee decommissioning ahead of schedule, savings anticipated

Cranes from the New York-based cleanup company NorthStar Group Services tower over the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

VERNON — The cleanup company decommissioning the state’s lone nuclear power plant says its first-of-a-kind project could end ahead of schedule with an estimated budget surplus of up to $25 million.

The New York-based NorthStar Group Services has demolished several outbuildings at Vernon’s former Vermont Yankee facility and expects to remove its two largest structures within three years.

“We’re 35% to 40% completed,” NorthStar CEO Scott State said Monday during a tour of the site. “If we get the turbine building out in the first quarter of 2023, we’ll have the reactor building out sometime in 2024.”

Vermont Yankee was the largest electric generator in the state when it opened in 1972. That changed when the New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. stopped power production in 2014 and prepared the site for an extended period of dormancy under which decommissioning could take up to six decades.

Enter NorthStar. In a first for the U.S. nuclear power industry, it purchased the property in 2019 for an accelerated decommissioning project that initially projected the site could be cleaned up as soon as 2026 and no later than 2030.

“I believe substantial work will be done well before that,” State said Monday.

The 2019 sale involved only a “nominal cash consideration,” the two sides said at the time. Instead, most of the payoff came in the fact Entergy could divest itself of an environmental liability and NorthStar could use its position as the world’s largest demolition company to make money decommissioning the plant at a lower price than a nearly $600 million fund set aside to do so.

That, the company said Monday, appears to be on track, too.

“We’ll end the project with $20 million to $25 million,” State said.

Some environmental activists had questioned whether NorthStar could deliver on the largest nuclear cleanup project it has ever attempted. But the company said the project not only is on schedule and budget but also has racked up 1 million worker hours without a safety complaint.

NorthStar said the only things it intends to leave are the 58 dry casks that store the plant’s spent fuel, as they must remain on site until the federal government approves an appropriate repository. Otherwise, it expects the area will be the way state regulators had hoped it would be upon approving the sale.

“The primary benefit of the proposal for Vermont,” members of the utility commission wrote at the time, “is NorthStar’s commitment to accelerate by more than 30 years the schedule for decommissioning and restoring most of the VY station site and releasing it for other uses.”

A spray-painted sign marks where equipment once filled space in the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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