Environmentalists challenge Vermont Yankee reliability

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(Host) As lawmakers consider the future of Vermont Yankee, environmentalists are challenging the reliability of the state’s only nuclear power plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state hired consultants to take a detailed look at Vermont Yankee. The report compared Yankee’s operation with other nuclear plants around the country, and with the 12 other plants owned by Entergy, that company that owns Yankee.

(Moore) "Once again, we find Yankee at the bottom of the barrel. It’s 11th out of 12."

(Dillon) James Moore is with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

(Moore) "The reliability assessment describes a plant that’s chronically mismanaged, has an aging workforce, that is over-worked beyond industry standards, and it describes a facility that age is starting to get the best of countless systems at that power plant."

(Dillon) VPIRG and the anti-nuclear group Citizens Action Network offered their view of the study at a Statehouse news conference.

The setting was important, because the plant’s license expires in 2012. And under state law, Yankee must win approval from the legislature to operate beyond that date.

David O’Brien is commissioner of the Department of Public Service. He says the nuclear critics highlighted only a tiny portion of the lengthy report.

(O’Brien) "Who would want to look at two pages of a 550-page document and say, `There’s the conclusion, there’s everything you need to know.’ Having said that, what’s on those charts is not acceptable. I mean it shows that the plant has not fared well compared to its peer group. And that’s got to change."

(Dillon) O’Brien says the report concludes that the plant can operate reliably, provided Yankee makes needed changes to operations and equipment.

Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the reliability information in the report reflects problems the plant experienced more than a year ago.

(Williams) "That information is an 18-month rolling average, so it’s somewhat dated. The primary factor that reduced our comparison in that time period was the problems we had with the cooling towers back in 2007."

(Dillon) Williams says if the plant operates without a major shutdown through April, it will be in the middle of the pack for nuclear plant reliability.

But Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for Citizens Action Network, pointed out that Yankee has had a number of problems in recent weeks. These include a leak of radioactive water that caused the plant to reduce power.

(Stannard) "At this point in time, they should be putting on their `A game’ for us. And if this is their A game, Vermonters should be very concerned about what would happen if we did let this plant go for another 20 years and then stopped watching them."

(Dillon) Meanwhile, some lawmakers are questioning whether they have enough time in this legislative session to adequately review Vermont Yankee.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Photo: Ezra Hausman, consultant for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear power plant, testifies before a joint legislative committee in Montpelier, Vt., Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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