Shumlin Says Proposal Could Squeeze VT Out Of Nuclear Waste Dump

December 14, 2010

John Dillon – Montpelier, VT
Vermont Public Radio -NPR

(Host) The dry plains of west Texas are supposed to be the final resting place for tons of low-level nuclear trash. Vermont and Texas have exclusive rights to the proposed waste site under an agreement reached 16 years ago.

But the commission overseeing the dump wants to open up the site to 36 other states.

That possibility worries Governor-elect Peter Shumlin. As VPR’s John Dillon reports, Shumlin says Vermont could get squeezed out if other states have access to the nuclear waste site.

(Dillon) Back in the 1990s Vermont and Texas planned ahead and signed an interstate compact for low level nuclear waste. The deal says Texas will host the dump, and Vermont is supposed to get 20 percent of the space.

But just days after the November election, the commission overseeing the project voted to propose a new rule that would open up the site to other states. It was a controversial decision, with some on the panel warning that the vote was being rushed.

(Gregory) "I am convinced this is too much, too soon, too fast."

(Dillon) That’s Texas commissioner Bob Gregory speaking out against the proposal at meeting in Midland, Texas, last month.

Gregory told the two Vermont commissioners that Vermont could lose its space in the dump if it was made available to nuclear plants in other states.

(Gregory) "I want you all to know that these things are being discussed and they’re being said, and one day ifVermont comes up and says: ‘Where’s our volume, where’s our capacity?’ And it is no more, that at least it was discussed."

(Dillon) Steve Wark was also in Midland that day. Wark is deputy public service commissioner and is one of two Vermonters who serve on the eight-member Low Level Waste Commission.

Wark and the other Vermonter on the panel – state nuclear engineer Uldis Vanags – were the swing votes in favor of the proposal to allow waste from other states. Wark told the November meeting that he’s aware of the implications for Vermont.

(Wark) "We definitely appreciate raising these issues for Vermont. We see them as important to Vermont. We wanted to protect our space. However, we do believe the rule meets all of Vermont’s needs."

(Dillon) But Governor-elect Peter Shumlin is not convinced. Shumlin says Vermont will need the Texas dump when Vermont Yankee is decommissioned.

(Shumlin) "There’s going to be a race for space, and the first in wins."

(Dillon) And Shumlin questions the timing of the vote – which came two months before he gets to replace the Douglas administration appointees on the panel.

(Shumlin) "My view is that the folks who are voting and scrambling before I become governor, frankly, to ensure that all the other states get access to our waste site are not thinking of Vermonters."

(Dillon) But Wark said in an interview that Vermont has a solid guarantee to the space under the new rule.

(Wark) "Our space is protected first, regardless of what else comes in from any other state."

(Dillon) Wark said allowing other nuclear plants to use the site will lower the cost overall. He said the proposal was under discussion for months, and that the vote was not rushed through before the change in administrations.

But a final vote on the rule could take place before Shumlin takes office on January 6.

Shumlin wants a delay and so do leading Democratic lawmakers.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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