Nuke plant VP says firm agreed to Vt. oversight

AP News
Posted: Sep 13, 2011 6:59 PM
Nuke plant VP says firm agreed to Vt. oversight

A vice president of the company that owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant said Tuesday he wrote a letter almost three years ago acknowledging the company needed state permission to keep the plant operating beyond March 2012 when its current license expires.

Jay Thayer made the comments Tuesday during the second day of the three-day trial in which Entergy Corp. is suing the state over the denial of a state certificate to operate for 20 years past March of 2012. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave its OK for the plant to do so, and the company maintains the federal action trumps the state's.

Thayer headed the company's government relations unit in Vermont until he was relieved of his duties in late January 2010 following revelations that radioactive tritium was leaking from Vermont Yankee and that company officials had made misleading statements to state regulators and lawmakers, saying falsely that the plant did not have the sort of underground pipes that carried tritium

Thayer was placed on administrative leave, the company said at the time, but since has landed as a vice president of Entergy Nuclear Operations, a company subsidiary.

But the winter of 2010 was not the first time Vermont lawmakers had expressed frustration with the information coming from Entergy, according to a letter Thayer wrote to lawmakers on Dec. 18, 2008.

The letter, labeled "confidential," but made public Tuesday after it was admitted into evidence in U.S. District Court, included a statement by the company saying it planned to be open and honest moving forward.

"Over the past several years, and in particular, during the last (legislative) session, I know that there was frustration on the part of you and your colleagues that information was difficult to obtain and often led to conflict in the press and media," the letter said. "Our aim going forward is to be open, honest, transparent and available to provide answers to all of your questions and concerns."

It was the following year, 2009, that the misleading statements about underground pipes were made by Entergy employees in legislative committee hearings and in sworn testimony to the Public Service Board. Just this July, Attorney General William Sorrell wrapped up an 18-month investigation, saying Entergy executives had shown themselves to be untrustworthy, but concluding that he did not have the evidence to bring perjury charges.

Entergy maintains in its suit that Vermont is trying to close its lone reactor due to concerns about nuclear safety, and that federal law makes nuclear safety the purview of the NRC.

Thayer spent much of his time on the stand in U.S. District Court, where Judge J. Garvan Murtha is hearing the case without a jury, playing the rope in a tug-of-war between lawyers for the state and for the company.

Assistant Attorney General Scot Kline, representing the state, called Thayer as a witness and introduced his December, 2008 letter, which also said in part: "This year, the Vermont legislature and the Vermont PSB (Public Service Board) will decide whether to allow for the continued operation of Vermont Yankee for another 20 years."

Kline asked, "You're telling the Legislature that they had a choice; they had a decision on whether to allow you to continue to operate, is that correct?"

Thayer answered, "That was the status in 2008, yes."

Entergy lawyer Robert Juman got Thayer to agree that the legislators he spoke with listed safety at Vermont Yankee as their top concern. Entergy has been trying to show that it's that federally pre-empted topic that drove the state Senate in 2010 to defeat a bill that would have allowed the Public Service Board to issue the certificate Vermont Yankee needed for continued operation.

Also Tuesday, House Speaker Shap Smith, who was called as a witness, said he disagreed with then-Senate President Pro Tem and now-Gov. Peter Shumlin during the 2010 session on the timing of bringing the question of Vermont Yankee's future to a vote in the Legislature.

Shumlin brought it to a vote in the Senate on Feb. 24, while lawmakers still waited for an update of a report the Legislature had commissioned on the plant's reliability.

Smith said his preference was to wait for the update. The House never voted on the question. The bill was defeated in the Senate, and the issue died there.