MONTPELIER, Vt. — An executive with the owner of the mothballed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant sought to clarify comments that environmentalists interpreted as a possibility the company might shirk its responsibility for cleaning up the site decades from now.

At a legislative hearing Feb. 11, Entergy Corp. Vice President Mike Twomey was asked what would happen if a dedicated investment fund doesn’t grow enough to cover the estimated $1.2 billion cost of decommissioning the Vernon facility.

He first said he doubted such an outcome, but added, “There would probably be quite a bit of litigation about that.”

Nuclear critics seized on the comment. Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry engineer who now consults with groups critical of the industry, labeled the Entergy executive “So-Sue-Me-Twomey.”

Gundersen pointed to Entergy’s corporate structure as a cause for worry, noting that multiple layers of limited-liability corporations stand between Vermont Yankee and its corporate parent. “It would be the 22nd century before we got any money out of Entergy” if any litigation arose like Twomey referenced, Gundersen said.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows retired nuclear plants to take up to 60 years to complete decommissioning. The time is meant in part to allow a reactor’s components to become less radioactive and for decommissioning investment funds to increase in value.

Vermont Yankee’s fund currently has about half the amount expected to be needed.

Twomey said this week that “we have every expectation” investment growth in the fund will be sufficient in that amount of time. He said the work could even be done by the 2040s.

He said again, though, that he did not want Entergy committed to a promise that it would cover the cost if the project isn’t done before the 2070s and funds are still short. “We are not going to pin down today the answer to a hypothetical question … on something that might happen 60 years from now,” Twomey said.