Sanders blocks nuclear agency official’s confirmation over Vermont reactor

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is blocking Senate confirmation of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) member William Ostendorff to another term due to NRC efforts to extend operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant over the opposition of state officials.

Sanders announced Monday evening that he had placed a procedural hold on Ostendorff. According to Sanders, the NRC voted 3-2 behind closed doors recently to recommend that the Justice Department intervene on plant owner Entergy Corp.’s behalf in the power company’s lawsuit against the state.

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Entergy is battling the state because it is not providing permission to allow the plant to continue operating after its 40-year federal license expires next year.

“The NRC’s legally defined mission is to ensure the safety of our nation’s 104 nuclear power plants, and the law is clear that states retain the authority to regulate based on economic and other considerations,” Sanders said in a statement.

“What the NRC did demonstrates poor judgment and a recommendation to radically expand federal authority. I cannot support the nomination of any commissioner who may have voted to make this recommendation which is why I have placed a hold on the nomination of William Ostendorff,” Sanders said.

The NRC recently granted the plant a 20-year extension, but the state Senate voted overwhelmingly last year not to grant state regulators permission to allow continued operation.

Entergy argues the state is overstepping its powers regarding nuclear plant operation (more on their position here).

Sanders said he is “awaiting a decision on the part of the Justice Department as to whether it will accept this misguided and improper recommendation from the NRC, or whether it will do the right thing and allow the courts to decide this matter without federal interference.”

Ostendorff’s first NRC term began in April of 2010 but is slated to expire June 30 of this year. President Obama re-nominated Ostendorff, a Republican, in April of this year.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved his nomination to a second term on June 9, but Sanders’ action raises the prospect that Ostendorff will not be confirmed by the full Senate before his current term expires.