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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Yankee, What Next?

When Yankee powers down, it will have to be “decommissioned”. However, that process only applies to those structures and appurtenances that were actually involved in nuclear production or otherwise affected. There are numerous other buildings that can remain. They should be put to useful service.

The spent fuel, of course, must be dealt with in an urgent manner. In reality, nothing useful can be developed there while the fuel remains.

One of the biggest assets at the site is the 345,000 volt transmission line network extending North, South and East. Although not owned by Yankee, it is located there and has been significantly upgraded recently. Any new development needs to take this into consideration.

This suggests that the highest and best use of the site might be in the continued generation of electricity.

Any source of electrical power that does not rely upon renewables.would be a non-starter. That leaves hydro, geothermal, solar and biomass, singly or in combination I didn’t include wind.(am I forgetting anything?).

Hydro is probably not an option. A mile downstream is an existing dam owned by Trans Canada (Douglas’s Folly) which has been producing power for over a century. It just completed a major upgrade. It’s probably extracting as much power from the Connecticut as is possible without massive redevelopment, which would be environmentally prohibited. Besides, Trans Canada is not Yankee. Scratch hydro.

I must admit, I know very little about geothermal electricity. Typically, geothermal electric plants have been built where high temperature geothermal resources are available near the surface. I doubt such conditions exist in Vernon.

A more recent development called a binary cycle power plant can accept fluid temperatures as low as 60°C (140ºF), but the Connecticut never gets near that hot. I think we can scratch geothermal as well.

Solar could and should be part of the mix. However, Solar takes up a lot of land.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) determines that a large fixed-tilt solar PV plant requires 2.8 acres per Gigawatt-hour per year of generation. (Direct land impacts on a generation-weighted basis.)

On a capacity-weighted basis, total land requirements average out to about 9 acres per Megawatt.
(The proposed PV site off Technology drive is about 5 acres per Megawatt).

The total installed capacity of Yankee is 620 Megawatts. According to their website, they generate 4,703 Gigawatt-hours per year.

To equal this by PV alone would require 2.8 x 4703, or 13,000 acres (20 square miles), equal to the total area of the Town of Vernon.

PV ain’t gonna work by itself, folks. But in combination with biomass, it might.

For one thing, to efficiently utilize the existing transmission network, it may not be necessary to equal Yankee’s output.

I leave that calculation for others.

Biomass means a lot of different things. Burning wood to boil water and using the steam to generate power isn’t much of an improvement over burning atoms to do the same thing. For one thing, it’s not very efficient. For another, there are several such plants in various stages of planning in nearby towns, putting our local forests in jeopardy. For a third, there’s the smoke.

However, there are alternatives.

As a renewable energy source, biomass can either be used directly via combustion to produce heat as above, or indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel. Conversion of biomass to biofuel can be achieved by different methods which are broadly classified into: thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods.

Gasification is a process that converts organic materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This is achieved by reacting the material at high temperatures (>700 °C), without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam. The resulting gas mixture is called syngas or producer gas and is itself a fuel. In fact, it was the principal cooking fuel in urban areas throughout America until after WWII when gas utilities found it cheaper to pipe in natural gas.

The power derived from gasification and combustion of the resultant gas is considered to be a source of renewable energy if the gasified compounds are obtained from biomass.

The advantage of gasification is that using the syngas is potentially more efficient than direct combustion of the original fuel because it can be combusted at higher temperatures or even in fuel cells. Syngas may be burned directly in large diesel engines such as are used to propel ships, which may be used to drive generators.

Gasification can also begin with material which would otherwise have been disposed of such as biodegradable waste. In addition, the high-temperature process refines out corrosive ash elements such as chloride and potassium, allowing clean gas production from otherwise problematic fuels.

Forest migration is the movement of large seed plant dominated communities in geographical space over time. Though an individual tree is permanently fixed in a location, tree populations may migrate over the landscape through generations.

There is evidence that forest migration is happening now in Vermont. Southern trees are seen more frequently in Vermont than has been normal in the past. Maples, in particular, appear to be migrating north, a cause of great concern to the maple industry.

A consequence of this, if true, would be the slow die-off of existing trees, resulting in an extended period of dead or dying trees. If left standing, this would greatly increase the risks of forest fires, thus they must be removed.
Culling these forests could be a significant source of biomass for years to come.

I’m running out of steam here (pun intended). What I’m trying to say is that some combination of solar and biomass is capable of generating enough power to utilize the existing grid connections in a productive way, and possibly create many times the jobs we’re losing at Yankee.


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Thank you for your report, alot to think about.
What are the by/waste products of Biomass Gasification being that they already represent a by product in of themselves especially if not completely combusted/incinerate, and how would they impact the environment, be dispersed/disposed of (ie affect the Connecticut River System). What are the risks, spontaneous combustion type accidents, foul surrounding air quality with emissions and airborn stench of composting materials to be stewed for local inhabitance, how does that rate to let's say being down wind from a pig farm ( I have lived in Georgia and experienced this, not pleasant)? I remember the town incinerator at our local dump growing up in Mass, not good.

I like the idea of utilizing the existing grid connection, but I think this site needs a break to recover, decommissioning could be a laborious and extended ordeal as it is, and as far as Geothermal, who knows what generated unnatrual heat(tritium tainted) stirs or lies dormant below this site, should we be taping into this somewhat already contaminated source?, not exactly an ideal place for the class field trip.



~~~”What are the by/waste products of Biomass Gasification”~~~
That depends on the nature of the chosen gasification process and the nature of the feedstock
The normal products of the pyrolysis process are gas and charcoal. The gas can be burned in internal combustion engines with results similar to, say, a diesel locomotive. These exhaust gases may be further cleaned up by scrubbers and catalytic converters.
The saying is: garbage in, garbage out. If you burn a lot of dirty stuff, you’re going to get a lot of dirty stuff out.
The charcoal is used to heat the next batch of biomass, ad infinitum. For typical inputs, the energy required to run a “fast” pyrolyzer is approximately 15% of the energy that it outputs. Modern pyrolysis plants can use the syngas created by the pyrolysis process and output 3–9 times the amount of energy required to run.

I’m assuming that no one chooses to burn fine forest timber. There are better uses for that. Burning low quality trash would serve us better, but presents problems of its own. Again, all of these things have to be determined in advance by the engineers who design the system.

Charcoal is theoretically, pure carbon. In reality, there will be some foreign matter which will not burn – ashes, if you will, which need to be disposed of as is ash from conventional burning.

One thing that might be considered for the surplus charcoal is Biochar.
Biochar is a name for charcoal when it is used for particular purposes, especially as a soil amendment. Like all charcoal, biochar is created by pyrolysis of biomass. Biochar is under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration to produce negative carbon dioxide emissions. Biochar thus has the potential to help mitigate climate change, via carbon sequestration. Independently, biochar can increase soil fertility, increase agricultural productivity and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne diseases. Furthermore, biochar reduces pressure on forests. Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon and can endure in soil for thousands of years. [Wikipedia]

At present, there is an enormous amount of Biomass being stored along the Vernon Road in the form of raw timber logs, finished wood products, sawdust and just about everything in-between.
Most of this belongs to Cersosimo Industries. Following the example set by the Chicago slaughterhouses, they utilize everything but the “squeal”. Their final product is compost, presently being processed and stored less than a mile from Yankee.
I am not aware of any smells, etc emanating from their operations. They run a tight ship. Certainly nothing remotely like a hog farm.
They have, however, had a fire caused by spontaneous combustion. I’m sure they have taken steps to prevent a reoccurrence.


Biomass emissions

Thanks for the enlightening information on the subject and answers to questions I had, pyrolysis sounds promising. I know charcoal to be beneficial for water filtration and purification as anyone who has gone camping or had a fish tank can tell you, and was once used as dental cleansing paste with these same properties. Wild seedlings thrive in a ecological rebirth after controlled burning or a forest fire occurs taking advantage of newly released nitrogen broken down by the burning process also making readily available valuable minerals and nutrients for accelerated growth. Sounds like a win/win solution, I was having trouble imagining what a by- product would be when not fully combusted or suppressing ingnition as first described in your piece but I guess it's the same difference.

"I'm assuming that no one chooses to burn fine forest timber" A ways back, I logged off a large stand of ovegrown and stunted evergreen trees( once meant for Christmas tree propogation) now waste trees choking each other out and presenting a forest fire hazard that had no marketable value except to be chipped, dryed and converted into pellets for a nearby College biomass power plant. So tree tops, slash and branches can be fully utilized in this way although it is equally important to leave behind a large portion to decompose to add to future soil health.


Electric eels

Maybe that field trip (inspecting) would be a good thing to keep this hypothetical plant on it's best behavior, because wherever there is money to be made, alternative or not, there exists fodder for corruption and cutting corners ( compromising safety) to increase profits, what kind of watchdog group is watching Bio- Mass generated energy, "Biovores" "Compostvores"? we are afterall consuming(energy)whatever the flavor.

Not to be too facetious on such a serious matter, but has anyone thought of farm raising electric eels and hard wiring this energy to the grid, let's say contained directly out front of Vermont Yankee in submerged pens installed with stimulaters to get the juice up to a significant voltage (I don't think anyone swims there, I hope not). I'm sure they are a tropical species, there seems to have been open (warm?) water there during the winter anyway (circulating from the plant?), but if escaped would be an environmental, invasive disaster.

I once ran out of gas in my reconditioned MFG 14' boat w/ 18 Hrs Evinrude motor I called the "Red Rascal" when I was a teenager (with Mustang bucket seats I salvaged and installed along with a complete custom wooden interior I painstakinly crafted, contoured to each vessel rib profile, then coated with 8 coats of marine finish, it's a wonder it didn't sink with all the improvements, I went way overboard, ha ha ) out in the middle of nowhere along the coast eventually drifting and rowing into shore where I had to rough it and hand tow my boat without protection for my feet in a barnacle encrusted underwater field for miles in the shallows following the shoreline.

I finally came across an old guy (very tan) who lived right on the water with his modest shack looking completely self sufficient and happy and he greeted me completely naked and generously brought me to his house for a supply of fresh gas. While he was inside fetching it, I noticed all his lights interior and exterior were on in broad daylight and when he returned I asked why this was. He pointed to his windmill and generator, then said, "because I can" no joke!! Your asking why did he have gas if he was self sufficient.
We will all need our own residential, efficient, personal power packs, low impact with minimal footprint of some sort in the future, this is the way to go, somebody please invent this to be marketable and affordable!


Trash into Gas Efficiently.

THERE is an indisputable elegance to the idea of transforming garbage into fuel, of turning icky, smelly detritus into something valuable....


Trash into Gas - Continued

Read this recent (8/17/13) article in the NYT. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/business/trash-into-gas-efficiently-an...
This gives a good background to the blast process. A large scale plant could take advantage of the existing infastructure in Vernon and would have the added benifit of solving some part or all of the waste disposal problem for VT/NH & MA. My guess is that there is enough trash within a viable area of transportation, that other bio sources (Trees) would not be needed.


What's Next? Waiting, Lots of Waiting

All this talk is well and good but I don't see Entergy taking an additional loss to decommission the site quickly in order to please the people the who fought to shut it down. Reinventing the site as some sort of green industrial park with many times the jobs VY had is a bad joke.


Thinking ahead

It appears that we're all supposed to be in mourning now over the closure of VY but that doesn't seem very practical or forward looking. I appreciated Tom's thoughtful rundown of possibilities.


Thinking ahead is fine

But pie in the sky fantasies aren't very practical or forward looking either.

For a more sober view on the impacts:



"See Ya"

I think we have to consider ourselves lucky if they don’t just hand us the key and say “See Ya”.
That might be just what they have in mind.

Today’s (8/30/13) Reformer contains an op-ed by Lissa Weinmann that I urge you all to read. She states: “we all need to work together to assure that decontamination begins immediately in order to preserve and create hundreds of jobs and assure the safe storage of highly radioactive waste that will certainly remain at the site for decades to come.”

She further opines: “Just as Entergy used federal law to abrogate a contractual promise to the state to abide by the state decision about continued operation past March 2012, Entergy will renege on its promise to return the site to greenfield status, citing federal preemption since current law governing nuclear waste management in the U.S. actually allows Entergy to exercise the SAFSTOR or let-it-sit decommissioning option. An extended court battle looms again unless citizens and our elected leaders work to change anachronistic federal laws that allow nuclear operators to essentially walk away while taxpayers foot the bill for long-term radioactive waste storage and clean-up.”

Entergy has demonstrated that they’d rather spend their money on courts and lawyers’ fees than do the right thing (and then turn around and try to collect those costs from us).

If we’re gonna do the right thing by the 600 soon-to-be-unemployeds, and subsequent fallout, we must get that place replaced by something productive ASAP.
60 years of doing nothing is a disaster.

Getting the fuel rods out of there completely is the optimal, but it appears to be the impossible.
Again quoting Weinmann: “SAFSTOR decommissioning for Yankee would allow one of the hottest concentrations of radioactive waste on the planet to stew in pools not built for that purpose. Experts across the board say the fuel in these pools must be moved to safer dry cask storage as soon as possible to avoid a pool fire that could be triggered by any loss of backup power needed to pump water up seven stories to keep the rods cool. If the rods can’t, for whatever reason, get the massive amounts of water required to keep them cool, an environmental disaster of epic proportions ensues. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s own internal safety scenarios paint a horrific picture in the event of a pool fire as opposed to consequences of potential events involving dry casks.”

There’s nothing SAFE about SAFSTOR. (I wonder who thought up that deceptive name).

I rejoiced that the Sword of Damocles would soon be lifted. If Entergy has its way, that won’t happen for another 60 years.



She is wrong about nearly everything she writes but I don't expect much from someone with no real background on the subject.


Enlighten us

Can you please let us know how she is wrong in the quotes mentioned above?


Google my friend, Google

She thinks Entergy is planning on leaving the fuel in the pool for 50+ years

She doesn't understand the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013.

She doesn't understand the Waste Confidence Decision and Rule and seems oblivious to the new draft rule.

She doesn't understand the mission of the NRC.

She doesn't understand how much water is required to cool a spent fuel pool.

She doesn't understand the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

She doesn't understand SAFSTOR.

And on and on...


Possible Revenue?

I'm thinking the residents of Vernon and Entergy should approach Seabrook and offer to store waste from that plant in the dry cask area. After all, that area was built to handle another 20 yrs of fuel rods. They might as well utilize it and charge a storage fee.



Mr. Mike, this comment betrays sentiments that seem kind of mean. Is that what you intended? Brattleboro is one of the nicest towns I've ever known. Why would you suggest ruining it, or placing it in any jeopardy, even in jest? Don't you live here too?


I don't know if Mike was

I don't know if Mike was intentionally trolling or just being facetious, but the chance of that happening is zero.

I also don't know if you being serious, but actually doing that would hardly ruin Brattleboro.

The site is likely going to remain basically as is for years with the exception of additional dry fuel casks. Instead of wasting effort on green energy industrial park nonsense, those same people should try to figure out where they can place ~300 highly trained workers such that they don't all leave the region. Some of the general support staff may stay but that's it.



“Instead of wasting effort on green energy industrial park nonsense, those same people should try to figure out where they can place ~300 highly trained workers such that they don't all leave the region.”

Instead of making snarky comments, let’s hear what you suggest for placing these ~300 highly trained workers where their talents can be gainfully utilized.
I suggest that they produce energy, which is what they are trained to do. And that they do it in Vernon where the transmission lines are located so the fruits of their endeavor may be efficiently brought to market.

You call this “nonsense”.

So what do you suggest?


Nonsense indeed

As I said, I can't see placing the vast majority those individuals in the local area. They are going to leave and people need to realize that. It's not snark, it's a simple fact that people (including Gov. Dumblin and company) don't seem to grasp.

Washing off solar panels won't cut it. A biomass plant won't cut it. A gas turbine plant won't cut it. Not to mention it would be years before anything else could be built there and I imagine the most skilled are already planning their exit before Dec 2014.


Your Right

I get the impression that certin people in the Legislature think that an NRC licensed control room operator can just merely get a job at Cersosimo Lumber running the mill.



Why would you consider that insensitive? Seems like a common sense approach to a revenue shortfall. And just how would that be putting Brattleboro at risk? The coming economic implosion is going to be a much greater risk for the town than the storage of fuel rods.

And yes I do live here to and for the last 30 some odd years I've never feared living less than a couple of miles,as the crow flies, from VY. What really makes me fearful and has a much greater impact on my life is what comes out of Montpelier.


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