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Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Permit Review Should Be Restarted, Watchdog Group Says

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In this Aug. 24, 2007 file photo, engineers and workers check the damage to the cooling towers at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. A federal judge in Vermont has ruled that the state's only nuclear plant can remain open beyond its originally scheduled shutdown date this year, despite efforts by state government to close the 40-year-old reactor, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File) | AP

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A group critical of the Entergy Corp.'s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant told state utility regulators Thursday they need to start over in their review of a request to extend the reactor's state permit by 20 years.

The Public Service Board's review was on hold while a federal court considered the Legislature's effort to block the extension by preventing the board from completing its review.

U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled Jan. 19 in Brattleboro that lawmakers were seeking to shutter Vermont Yankee for an impermissible reason. He said that their main concern, despite the state's denials, was the safety of the plant and that federal law pre-empts states from acting on matters of nuclear safety, leaving the issue to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The judge's decision sent the case back to the Public Service Board, where plant owner Entergy Corp. last week asked the three-member panel to wrap up its review quickly and issue a 20-year extension based on a state certificate of public good. The plant license expires in March.

But the New England Coalition on Thursday urged the board to take a much slower approach. The coalition, which has opposed an extension before both state and federal regulators, said the board last took testimony on the application from New Orleans-based Entergy in August of 2009 and the group noted several developments since then.

Those included: the board learned that company executives made misleading statements to the board and lawmakers that Vermont Yankee didn't have the sort of underground pipes that carried radioactive substances; the Fukushima disaster in Japan involved reactors similar in age and design to Vermont Yankee; the Obama administration pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste disposal site in Nevada.

"Much of the testimony and evidence has now grown stale or has been rendered obsolete by industry events and changing markets," the coalition said in a statement.

In its filing with the board, the coalition pointed to remarks made by Entergy lawyer Kathleen Sullivan in the federal court case, and said the record before the board for its review of whether to grant the certificate of public good was tainted.

The coalition provided excerpts from the trial transcript that quote Sullivan saying, "We think we would have to go back to the Public Service Board with a fresh docket and a fresh start ... We would want a chance to make a fresh docket and confine the proceedings to non-nuclear safety issues."

Vermont Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said Thursday he could not comment on legal matters related to the plant.

The state's lone reactor, located in Vernon in southeast Vermont, was at 75 percent power Thursday, working its way back up from a power-down earlier in the week to perform routine maintenance on fuel rods.

Smith said the power reduction was related to maintenance and not to a problem technicians discovered Monday with a sticky turbine valve. He said that problem has been fixed.

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