The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has long been a bone of contention for many Vermonters. And when the plant, which supplies one-third of Vermont's electricity, began showing its age in 2010 by leaking small amounts of radioactive tritium, the Vermont legislature grappled with the plant, voting against a twenty-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The NRC has never turned down a plant relicensing, however, granting 61 straight extensions to the nation's aging fleet. And on March 10, coincidentally, only hours before the earthquake and tsunami rocked northeastern Japan and set off the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the NRC voted 4-0 to approve Vermont Yankee for another twenty years, putting the streak at 62 straight extensions.
But the reactor problems in Japan actually forced the NRC to delay issuing the license for ten ten days because, according to officials, the staff was "otherwise occupied and can't complete the paperwork."
Vermont Yankee opponents then seized the opportunity to pile on.
"The irony of this can't be overestimated," executive director of the anti-nuclear Citizens Awareness Network, Deborah Katz told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, noting that the delay was caused by NRC helping Japanese nuclear officials with the problems at Fukushima Daiichi. That plant, which uses the same General Electric boiling water reactors with Mark-1 containment vessels and above-ground spent waste storage pools as those at Vermont Yankee, contains more spent fuel than all four of the pools at Fukushima combined, Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, told energyNOW! in a piece about the implications of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi for nuclear power in the U.S. (below).
The fate of Vermont Yankee for the next twenty years is not sealed quite yet. The State of Vermont is still not on board with the hot-off-the-press NRC extension. And because the Vermont legislature must also approve the license extension, the only U.S. state where that is the case, the state decision and the NRC decision will stand in opposition to each other — and that has never happened in a relicensing before.