3rd UPDATE: Entergy Sues To Keep Vermont Nuclear Plant Running
Entergy Corp. (ETR) sued Vermont on Monday in a bid to keep the
state's only nuclear power plant running past March 2012.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Burlington, sets up a
legal battle between the state, which has soured on the 39-year-old
reactor, and the nation's second-largest nuclear operator, which
claims Vermont doesn't have authority over the plant, called
This escalation in a long-running dispute comes during
heightened concerns over safety in the wake of the disaster at the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following last month's
earthquake and tsunami. Vermont Yankee's boiling water reactor is
the same model as those at Fukushima Daiichi.
But opposition to Vermont Yankee was already growing even before
Japan's crippled plant started spewing radiation. Last year, New
Orleans-based Entergy reported several instances of leaks of
radioactive material from underground pipes. Those safety concerns
were coupled with accusations Entergy misled state officials on the
existence of underground piping.
The fact that Entergy is facing off with the state of Vermont is
unusual because the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission usually has
the final say in such decisions. When Entergy bought Vermont Yankee
in 2002, the company gave state regulators more say over the
"It has been made clear that state officials are singularly
focused on shutting down the plant," said Richard Smith, president
of Entergy's wholesale commodities division.
The NRC said it won't interfere with the state's decisions and
declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The federal agency has given Entergy permission to run the plant
for another 20 years. But Vermont legislators have withheld
approvals required to extend the life of the reactor.
"Vermont has a proper role in granting or denying state approval
for Vermont Yankee," Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement. "We
are confident that the court will recognize that role and we are
ready to defend Vermont in this lawsuit."
The regulatory deadlock initially spurred Entergy to put the
605-megawatt plant up for sale. Now it's pushing to keep it
running, saying the reactor will provide cheap and reliable power.
Yet New England currently has more than enough power plants, and
the reactor isn't needed to ensure supplies keep pace with
electricity demand in the region, said Michael Dworkin, a professor
at Vermont Law School and a former chairman of Vermont's public
"There's a huge excess of capacity in New England and in the
Northeast," Dworkin said. "There's no need [for Vermont Yankee] on
Nuclear operators typically meet little opposition to license
extensions for reactors, with federal regulators granting 63 since
As part of its deal to buy Vermont Yankee in 2002, Entergy
agreed to seek approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to
extend the plant's operating license. The state legislature revised
the process in 2006, requiring Vermont's legislature to give the
green light first. In the lawsuit, Entergy contends the 2006 law
invalidates the original agreement, and the future of the plant is
now up to federal regulators alone.
Entergy shares closed down 55 cents at $65.97 on Monday.
-By Matt Day and Mark Peters, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-4986;
--Drew FitzGerald contributed to this article.