NEW YORK - The Vermont Senate said on Wednesday it has voted to shut Entergy Corp's Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant when its license expires in 2012, after a leak releasing radioactive tritium into the groundwater was discovered last month.
While the Obama administration advocates a nuclear revival to reduce dependency on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions, opponents of Vermont Yankee have used the leak to show Entergy is not operating the reactor safely and that it license should not be renewed.
Entergy applied with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2006 to renew the 40 year operating license for the plant, which began operations in 1972, for an additional 20 years.
"The effort to win a 20-year renewal of Vermont Yankee's operating license is far from over," Entergy said in a statement.
"We remain determined to prove our case to the legislature, state officials and the Vermont public."
If the vote is upheld, it would be the first time in more than 20 years that a state legislature has acted to shut down a reactor.
In 1989, Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California permanently shut down the Rancho Seco nuclear plant in Herald after a public referendum voted to shut it down due to reliability concerns.
The Vermont Senate vote shows the industry still faces major regulatory hurdles as it tries to swing into construction mode for the first time since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, which threatened the eastern United States with a nuclear meltdown.
Since 2007, the NRC has received applications to build 28 new reactors, which emit no greenhouse gases.
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WHAT IS TRITIUM?
Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in very small amounts in groundwater. It is also a byproduct of power production in nuclear plants. But the NRC said the leak reported at Vermont Yankee in January posed no immediate threat to public health and safety.
Entergy said there has been no tritium levels found in drinking water wells or the Connecticut River.
The 620 megawatt Vermont Yankee power plant, located near the Connecticut River in Vernon in Windham County, about 140 miles west-northwest of Boston, can power about 620,000 homes.
"The plant is a vital, safe and reliable source of clean power for Vermont and the rest of New England, and we will continue communicating to the public the substantial economic and environmental benefits of keeping the plant operating beyond 2012," Entergy said.
Tritium contamination, however, is not unique to Vermont Yankee.
Over the past few years, the NRC has investigated tritium releases at several reactors, including Entergy's Indian Point and FitzPatrick in New York and Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Braidwood in Illinois.
The 104 nuclear power reactors in the United States provide about 20 percent of the nation's electricity.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Houston; Editing by Marguerita Choy)