The Vermont senate voted today to deny the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant the clearance necessary to obtain a license renewal.
Approval of the bill, which came on a 26-4 vote, could lead to the closure of the power plant in 2012.
The Vermont Yankee facility, which became operational in 1972, has since Jan. 7 been experiencing a leak of tritium into nearby groundwater.
Vermont legislators also indicated, during debate on the measure, that they believe officials of Louisiana-based Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee, misled them during testimony about whether the pipes under the facility could lead tritium.
It is not clear whether the chamber's decision will be either permanent or of significance to the licensing decision, which is committed by federal law to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
When Entergy bought Vermont Yankee from a group of local utilities in 2004 it signed an agreement with Vermont requiring the state to issue a new "certificate of public good" before its federal license could be renewed.
The state senate's action Wednesday was to deny that new certificate.
It is possible, given that Vermont legislators stand for election this autumn, that a new senate majority more favorably disposed to Vermont Yankee could be installed and reverse today's action.
The NRC appears to be on the verge of granting Entergy a new 20-year operating license for Vermont Yankee. The agency recently granted such a renewal to owners of a plant of similar design located in New Jersey.
Vermont's Republican governor, Jim Douglas, had suggested earlier in the month that his state's legislature should not attempt to intervene in the licensing process. critical of the senate vote.
"We’re not anywhere near where there is concern of that magnitude,” Douglas said at a news conference.
The NRC also told Vermont legislators on Feb. 12 that it does not believe the tritium leak at the plant justifies a closure.
Several senators tried to get the body to send the measure back to committee in order to secure additional study of the economic results of closing Vermont Yankee, but that effort failed.
The plant employs 650 people.
Vermont is the only state in the union that has reserved a right to weigh in on licensure of nuclear power plants.