Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
All Gov

January 25, 2012

The state of Vermont’s effort to shut down a nuclear power plant has been halted by a federal judge who ruled officials exceeded their authority.

In 2010, the State Senate voted 26-4 to cause the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, which has leaked radioactive material, to cease operations when its license expires in March. But Judge J. Garvan Murtha said Vermont does not have the power to compel the plant’s owner, Entergy, to stop using the reactor because only the federal government can regulate safety issues related to nuclear power. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already announced that the power plant can remain operating for another 20 years.

The judge also ruled that the state cannot force Entergy to sell electricity from the reactor to in-state utilities at reduced rates as a condition of continued operation.

However, Murtha made it clear that he was only rejecting the state’s attempt to shut down the plant based on safety issues. He noted that his decision did not “purport to define or restrict the State’s ability to decline to renew a certificate of public good on any ground not pre-empted or not violative of federal law.”

Vermont officials are expected to appeal the ruling.

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