If Vermont Yankee, the 620 megawatt nuclear power plant, and all of the spent nuclear fuel being stored on its site were to just up and vanish tomorrow, what would be left is a pretty good spot for a power plant.
Now that the plant is now offline and many are asking, what’s next? While the site of the power plant has a lot going for it, building something else where a nuclear reactor once stood is no easy task.
“They have all the reasons why they wanted to build a plant there in the first place,” says Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
There’s the Connecticut River which the plant uses for cooling, “prime position on the grid” and easy access to highways and other transportation. “Most of these plants, when they were built, they had to haul in all these very large components. So they usually had a rail spur that leads to the site,” says Sheehan.
And now that Vermont Yankee is offline, all of that power plant infrastructure is still there, and looking pretty attractive.
Last summer, there was already talk of building a new plant on the site.
“The town of Vernon had a conversation with someone about the possibility of doing a biomass power generation facility there,” says Chris Campany. Executive Director of the Windham Regional Commission in Vermont.
Or perhaps a natural gas fired plant on the spot?
“The reality is you’ve still got a nuclear power plant sitting there,” says Campany.
Vermont Yankee only has around half of the money it needs to fully dismantle the plant in its Decommissioning Trust Fund. So its owner, Entergy, has proposed using a method called SAFSTOR. That means it will move all of the fuel rods into dry storage within five years, but then let the still radioactive reactor sit for several decades (while the fund accrues interest) before they take it apart.
So, if the NRC approves Entergy’s decommissioning plan, there could be a fenced up, still contaminated facility all the way through middle of this century.
But the allure of the site isn’t just a nice spot on the side of the river.
Don Jessome, the CEO of Transmission Developers Incorporated, has been eyeing the gaping hole the plant has left on the grid. His company is planning to bury a massive power line that will connect New England to Canadian hydro and wind power, which plans to be in operation by 2019.
When they looked for a project they thought about where it could plug in. “Is there actual physical space on the transmission grid?” he says was the question.
So when a 620 megawatt power plant goes offline, that looks like a big landing pad to a transmission developer. “The tipping point for us was when Vermont Yankee made the announcement it was going to be retiring,” Jessome explains.
The reality is, though, few proposals could create jobs like a nuclear plant does. Vermont Yankee employed more than 600 people at its peak, with salaries averaging more than $100,000 dollars a year.
No matter what’s next for the Vermont Yankee site, the region will have to look elsewhere to soften the economic blow it’s about to receive.