The petition points to a litany of recent equipment failures and emergency shutdowns at the plants and asks the NRC to determine whether there is a connection between these failures and Entergy’s economic issues. For instance, FitzPatrick has seen an above average number of equipment problems in recent months, including condenser fouling and tube leaks, a transformer fire, and a problem with the turbine control system. Pilgrim also has seen a number of equipment failures. Its scram valve failed in March for the second time it failed in the last two months. The petition also points to a number of expensive upgrades the plants will need in coming years due to their age. Vermont Yankee and FitzPatrick will both need a new condenser, which could cost approximately $150 million each. Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool is at maximum capacity and dry cask storage is now required at a huge expense to Entergy. All three plants are Fukushima-style Mark I Boiling Water Reactors and will be required by the NRC to install potentially expensive upgrades in the next few years.
“The bad news is that there really is a conflict here between public safety and Entergy’s short-term bottom line for these particular nuclear reactors, since good maintenance of equipment and safety upgrades cost money,” said Jessica Azulay, organizer with the Syracuse-based Alliance for a Green Economy.“The good news is that there is no tension between what would be good for the public and what would be good for Entergy as a whole, since UBS says these plants are dragging down the whole fleet and that Entergy could put itself on much better economic footing by closing them. We believe it is in everyone’s interests for the NRC to force Entergy to cut its losses and to prevent the company from running these plants into the ground. If NRC will not enforce its regulations, we would hope Entergy shareholders would do the right thing here.”
Entergy’s financial issues are caused in part by lower market prices for electricity in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts than when the company acquired its Northeast nuclear fleet. At the time, Entergy relied on Power Purchase Agreements to show it would be financially qualified to operate the reactors. Entergy entered into Power Purchase Agreements with the plants’ original owners to guarantee a set price for Entergy’s electricity regardless of the market price. As detailed in the groups’ petition to the NRC, with the expiration of those agreements, Entergy is unable to turn a profit on these reactors, and is no longer financially qualified to operate them.
“With Entergy’s systemic mismanagement of Vermont Yankee including the cooling tower collapse, delayed maintenance, groundwater contamination and its routine reneging on commitments it made when it purchased the reactor, the questions raised by UBS about the financial viability of Vermont Yankee and other reactors in Entergy’s fleet are of great concern,” said Deb Katz, executive director of CAN.“As a merchant plant with no ratebase to return to for financial security, Entergy’s bottom line overshadows Vermont Yankee’s operation. The unnerving tension between profit and safe operation of its aging reactor fleet requires NRC to act to protect the public health and safety.”
Whether or not NRC grants the petition, the possibility that Entergy may close these plants to save its own bottom line means that state and local policy makers need to put in place a transition plan that protects workers’ rights, provides for comprehensive decommissioning and isolation of radioactive waste, and encourages replacement with renewable energy sources." ...