Court battle joined over Vt. nuke plant’s future

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MONTPELIER, Vt. | The owners of Vermont’s troubled nuclear plant sued state officials Monday to stop them from closing the plant next year, setting up a court fight about who has jurisdiction — state or federal nuclear regulators — over the site.

New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., which recently won a new 20-year license for Vermont Yankee but has fought with state officials since the discovery of radioactive tritium at the plant, argued that the state doesn’t have the authority to prevent continued operation of Vermont Yankee.

“The question presented by this case is whether the state of Vermont … may effectively veto the federal government’s authorization to operate the Vermont Yankee Station through March 21, 2032,” the lawsuit said. “The answer is no.”

The civil suit lists state Attorney General William Sorrell, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and the members of the state Public Service Board as defendants.

“The battle is joined,” Mr. Sorrell said after news of the suit was announced.

Vermont is alone among the states in claiming authority to block a nuclear plant re-licensing, historically the purview of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In 2006, the state enacted a measure giving the legislature the authority to deny a license renewal for Vermont Yankee, a generating facility on the banks of the Connecticut River that’s had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the state since opening in 1972.

Last year, the state Senate voted 26-4 to block the plant from operating past March 2012, when its state permit expires. That followed revelations that the plant in Vernon had leaked radioactive tritium into groundwater and soil around and admissions by its owners that they had erred when they told Vermont regulators and lawmakers that the plant didn’t have the kind of underground piping that carries radioactive material.

Entergy argues that Vermont’s law violates the Atomic Energy Act, which the company says gives jurisdiction to the federal government. The company also says the state unfairly impeded commerce when its officials said they would not grant a new state permit unless Entergy entered into power-purchase agreements with below-market rates favoring Vermont utilities.

In a conference call, Entergy Corp. executive Richard Smith said the company didn’t want to resort to litigation.

“We believe we have made every reasonable effort to accommodate the state of Vermont and its officials while allowing for the continued operation Vermont Yankee,” he said.

Mr. Shumlin has called for the plant’s closure, and environmental groups describe it as an aging facility that should be mothballed.

Entergy is now attempting to rewrite history, breaking its own promises and its own support of Vermont law,” Mr. Shumlin said at a Monday afternoon press conference. “Instead of following Vermont law, Entergy seeks to subject the taxpayers of Vermont to an expensive legal proceeding.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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