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Regional News

A Post-Nuclear Reality Settles In For Vernon, Vermont

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, Vermont, has been decommissioning for five years. By the end of May, New England will be down to its last two nuclear power plants.

The only nuclear plant operating in Massachusetts — Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth — will go offline soon, and begin the process of decommissioning.

That leaves just two remaining nuclear plants in the region, in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Waterford, Connecticut. 

Reporter Susan Smallheer spoke with NEPR about what's happening in Vermont at the nuclear plant.

Susan Smallheer, The ReformerA lot of what's going to be demolished of Vermont Yankee is going to leave Vernon by rail, because, as you can see, these roads are tiny. And so to have these massive pieces of an industrial plant — that's what Vermont Yankee is — leave the area by rail will be much more efficient.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: The plant was sold by Entergy in January, and is now held by NorthStar. It's a New York-based cleanup company. They're going to be accelerating the decommissioning. I hear that that is going to take decades off this process.

Yeah, originally, the plant was going to be put into cold storage, and so it was going to be 60 years before the plant was demolished and the cleanup took place, and nobody liked that.

But Entergy said it didn't have the money in the decommissioning trust fund to do the demolition and cleanup.

Reporter Susan Smallheer stands near the Vernon, Vermont, Town Office. The smokestack belongs to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant.
Credit Carrie Healy / NEPR
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NEPR
Reporter Susan Smallheer stands near the Vernon, Vermont, Town Office. The smokestack belongs to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, NorthStar came into the picture — this was maybe two and a half years ago — and said, "We can do it with the decommissioning trust fund," which was about $600 million. And everybody was like, "How can you do that?" — when Entergy had estimated it would cost $1.2 billion — you know, they had roughly half the money.

And so the whole process — the sale was vetted by the NRC and the state of Vermont, to make sure that NorthStar, which has never done this before, had the wherewithal — financial and technical — to do this.

And how has the public reacted to this? Are they looking for the site to become park land more quickly? Is it going to help the town move on?

Yes, that's the hope — that eventually, the site will be reused for sort of an industrial park. Their first choice, of course, would bring in a new, some kind of a power plant, because that's usually low-impact and high-revenue for a community.

The view from Hinsdale, New Hampshire, looking across the Connecticut River to the  Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station.
Credit Carrie Healy / NEPR
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NEPR
The view from Hinsdale, New Hampshire, looking across the Connecticut River to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station.

But when you look at what's happened to other nuclear sites, even in New England, none of them have been reused. So I think there is some skepticism, and it's going to take about 10 years to demolish and clean up Yankee.

Is the story of the closure of a nuclear plant similar to many small towns across New England, and its history of mills that eventually end up closing, and the town loses the mill?

Yeah, that's that's the perfect analogy. I've covered other towns in Vermont that lost their major industry, and they just went through trauma making the transition.

Vermont Yankee employed about 600 people, and about one-third lived in Vermont, one-third in Massachusetts, one-third in New Hampshire. So the closure of Yankee was regional. It wasn't just Vernon. But Vernon, obviously, was very dependent on tax revenue from Entergy, and all kinds of benefits that Entergy pumped into the local community and economy.

A town of its size, in another part of Vermont, didn't have the level of services Vernon did. So whether the community has weathered this — it was a tremendous economic impact. People at Vermont Yankee were making, on average, $100,000 a year — which was about double what the average wage in this part of Vermont is. I don't think anybody can say definitely that Windham County has completely recovered from this impact.

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