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Another Nuclear Plant To Close

Energy: Cheap natural gas sped demise of Vermont Yankee plant

by Jeff Johnson
August 29, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 35

Credit: NRC
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station will shut down in 2014.
This is a picture of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that will shut down in 2014.
Credit: NRC
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station will shut down in 2014.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, Vt., will permanently shut down in 2014, according to plant owner Entergy. The plant becomes the fifth nuclear power facility announced this year to close.

In the Vermont Yankee case, Entergy’s announcement ends a long-simmering dispute between the utility and state officials and residents over the continued operation of the 620-MW plant. During its lifetime, the plant has faced opposition by antinuclear power activists, who became more strident after Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster in 2011. The Vermont Yankee plant design nearly mirrors that of the Fukushima reactor facility.

“This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us,” says Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and CEO. He blamed the combination of a “transformational shift” in the energy marketplace driven by low natural gas prices and the resulting cheap electricity, as well as high operating costs to run the small power plant.

Two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted approval for the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee plant to continue operating for another 20 years. The Vermont State Legislature, however, had passed legislation to block its continued operations. Nevertheless, Entergy kept the plant operating, and earlier this year federal court rulings overturned the state’s action.

But federal approval alone appeared insufficient for Entergy to continue operating the Vermont Yankee plant. Higher maintenance costs, low electricity prices, and competition with natural gas power plants were cited by owners as reasons to shutter the four other nuclear power reactors that went off-line this year—Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin, Florida’s Crystal River 3 Nuclear Power Plant, and two units of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California.

These closures mark the first permanent commercial reactor shutdowns in the U.S. in 15 years and will bring the number of U.S. reactors undergoing decommissioning to 34, according to NRC.



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