A federal judge in Vermont yesterday refused to grant an injunction that would have allowed the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to operate beyond its scheduled closing date of March 2012.
The owners of the plant, Entergy Corp. of Louisiana, had argued that it would suffer irreparable harm if it could not keep operating while its case against the state of Vermont moved through the federal courts. It is considered by many to be a landmark case, pitting the right of the state to refuse to renew a nuclear plant’s operating license against the authority of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry. The case could go on for years, possibly even reaching the Supreme Court before a final decision is reached.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a leading critic of the plant and its owners, hailed the judge’s decision.
“Entergy’s lawsuit is an attack on state authority, attempting to deny us a voice regarding whether Vermont Yankee will run past 2012,” Shumlin said in a statement issued by his office.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha issued his decision late yesterday saying the company had failed to prove its claim, according to an article in the Burlington Free Press.At the heart of the conflict is the agreement with Entergy Corp. when it purchased the 40-yeard-old plant in 2002, that it would abide by a Vermont law giving the state final say over whether or not an extension of its operating license should be granted when it expires in 2012.
Public opinion in Vermont has long been divided over the plant, located in Vernon, Vt., in the southeast corner of the state. Then, beginning with a serious leak of radioactive water last January along with a variety of other problems since then, public opinion has largely turned against its continued operation. The ongoing disaster at the Fukashima plant in Japan has only hardened public opposition. Support now generally comes from industry and business interests.
Last year, the legislature voted not to renew the plant’s operating license for another 20 years. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency charged with overseeing the nuclear industry in the US, said there was no reason for concern and granted the 20-year extension.
With the support of the NRC, Entergy then filed suit in federal court, claiming that the state’s action could not overrule the NRC’s decision. That case will be heard beginning in September. Entergy had sougt the preliminary injunction to keep operating, claiming that it could not go ahead with expensive refueling scheduled for later this year if the future of the plant remained uncertain.
This could mean an early shutdown for the plant, which began operating in 1972. The company has not yet issued any public statement on the judge’s decision.