Douglas loses confidence in Vermont Yankee over lost fuel rods

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says a proposed expansion of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant could be affected by the disclosure that two segments of a fuel rod are missing at the facility. Douglas says the incident has caused him to lose some confidence in the owners of the plant and he says it’s critical for the federal government to support an independent reliability study of the facility before the power upgrade takes place.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The governor says he’s sending state officials to the Vermont Yankee plant to work with representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the search for the missing fuel segments. Douglas says he wants to be certain that the interests of the state remain a top priority in the investigation.

Two segments of a spent fuel rod, pieces that are considered to be highly radioactive, were discovered missing after the NRC conducted a recent audit at Vermont Yankee. Douglas says the incident raises serious questions about the safety and record keeping procedures at the plant:

(Douglas) “I’m very troubled by that. I think Vermonters and I among them have lost some confidence in the operation of the nuclear power plant at Vernon. The repeated problems and other concerns that have become evident over the past few months lead me to be very troubled indeed.”

(Kinzel) The owners of Vermont Yankee have filed a request to expand the power capacity of the plant by 20 percent. Last month, the Vermont Public Service Board gave its approval to the request with the condition that an independent engineering study be conducted to review the reliability of the plant with its larger power output.

The governor says this kind of review is critical and that the results of the study could affect the power upgrade plan:

(Douglas) “At this point, until we get answers to these questions, I would say that everything is on the table there’s nothing that I would rule in or out.”

(Kinzel) The NRC is reviewing the conditions imposed by the Vermont Public Service Board. Douglas thinks the NRC will support the reliability study because of the current problems at the plant:

(Douglas) “I requested and the Public Service Board did what’s called an ‘independent engineering assessment’ of the plant. When I talked with the acting chairman yesterday, he indicated that that request is still pending that they’re taking it very seriously and frankly in light of the recent developments over the last couple of days they’re taking it more seriously than ever.”

(Kinzel) Vermont Yankee officials believe the two segments are still in the spent fuel pool but they say it may take a week or two for workers using robotic camera devices to completely scan the storage area.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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