Vermont Yankee
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, on the Connecticut River.
NRC

An unwanted nuclear power plant is going to be sticking around in Vermont like a drunk uncle after the party has ended.

State lawmakers have been trying to force the closure of the 41-year-old Vermont Yankee plant by denying it permits following radioactive leaks and other safety concerns. But a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that doing so was beyond the legislature’s power, upholding a lower court’s ruling that states are “pre-empted” by federal law from regulating nuclear safety.

“The nuclear power industry has just been delivered a tremendous victory against the attempt by any state to shut down federally regulated nuclear power plants,” Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for power plant owner Entergy, told The New York Times. From the Times article:

[T]he court said Vermont was unpersuasive when it said that the reasons for the denial were that the reactor was too costly and unreliable, and that closing it would encourage the development of renewable energy from wind or wood.

In hearings and floor debate, Vermont legislators referred often to the idea that they could not legislate over the safety of the plant, which is on the Connecticut River near the Massachusetts border, and would have to find other reasons to close it.

“Vermont tried to escape the prohibition by saying, ‘Oh, no, we were really trying to encourage energy diversity,’ ” Ms. Sullivan said.

The court also found that because the reactor operated in a competitive market for electricity, Vermont could not close it because it was too expensive.

The ruling comes as nuclear power is increasingly being seen as uneconomical in America in an era of cheap natural gas and renewable power. Earlier this year, Entergy announced that it would shed 30 of the 650 jobs at Vermont Yankee.