Greenpeace Airship Flies Over Vermont Yankee Nuclear Reactor

Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, announced today it will sue the state of Vermont in federal court, asking for a judgement to allow its nuclear plant to continue operating past March 21, 2012, the day its certificate of public good (CPG - aka state operating permit) expires.

Last month, just ten days after the tsunami that touched off the Fukushima catastrophe, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, issued Vermont Yankee a 20-year extension of its federal operating license, despite the fact that Vermont Yankee is of the same flawed design as the reactors at Fukushima and despite the fact that its spent fuel pool is jammed with highly radioactive waste, far beyond its design capacity.

Everyone expected Entergy to file suit. Since it bought the plant nine years ago, Entergy has lied (often under oath) to the citizens of Vermont, its managers have cut corners to the point that some parts of their facility collapsed from lack of maintenance and others caught fire for no apparent reason. The rust bucket has leaked – and continues to leak – radioactive material into Vermont’s pristine groundwater. This lawsuit merely represents the latest example of bad-faith dealing from a company that appears to know no other way of conducting itself.

I, for one, welcome this lawsuit.

In 2002, when Entergy purchased Vermont Yankee, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the state, agreeing that the state’s Public Service Board (PSB) can decide whether or not the plant may continue operation after March 2012.

In today’s announcement, Richard Smith, president of Entergy wholesale commodities, said the company’s lawsuit is premised on the notion that a state cannot prevent a federally-licensed nuclear facility from operating. If that argument is true, then it was true when Entergy signed the Memorandum of Understanding in 2002.

So, number one – I look forward to hearing Entergy attorneys explain that one - that they’re filing this suit out of deep concern for a process that did not seem to enter their minds in 2002.

Mr. Smith argues that Entergy need no longer honor the 2002 MOU because in 2006, the Vermont legislature directed the PSB to withhold action on a CPG until both bodies in the legislature approve of the action. That was a deal-breaker, Mr. Smith said today.

If that’s true, why didn’t Entergy sue in 2006? Why wait until now? And why sue on grounds of federal pre-emption? It seems a breach-of-contract suit is the proper means to seek judicial relief. But I’m not a lawyer, so I welcome this suit, so I can understand these issues better.

I welcome this lawsuit as a kind of spring training for the state governments of New York and Massachusetts, because they have serious questions about the operation of Entergy nuclear plants in their states (at Indian Point and Pilgrim, respectively).

Finally, I welcome this lawsuit as a much-needed public forum in which to hold a full and vigorous debate on the desirability of nuclear power in the United States in the post-Fukushima era.

Let’s have at it.