Faulty Pump Keeps Vermont Yankee Below Full Power

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(Host) The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is still operating below full power because of a failed reactor pump.

Plant officials hope to make repairs soon. Other maintenance is scheduled during a re-fueling outage that begins next week.

But industry observers say that more costly work will be postponed until the future of the plant is more certain.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Late last weekend, a large pump used to circulate water around the reactor vessel, tripped off line. The pump’s motor generator had failed. Larry Smith is a Vermont Yankee spokesman. He says repairs have taken longer than planned.

(Smith) "It’s a huge electro-mechanical unit that actually controls the speed of this pump that circulates millions of gallons of water in the reactor. So it’s an electrical problem on this motor generator set that we’ve just had difficulty getting repaired."

(Dillon) Yankee has two of the large re-circulating pumps. They’re not considered safety equipment. But along with fuel rods, the pumps are used to control the plant’s power output.

(Smith) "And if you take one of those pumps out of service power automatically drops to 50 percent, so we’re sitting at 46 percent power as we speak."

(Dillon) Smith says technicians hope to repair the pump before a refueling outage that starts at the end of next week. The outages take place every 18 months. And Yankee uses the down time to do essential repairs or maintenance work.

(Gundersen) "This outage is probably going to be a real quick one. They’ll refuel and do some minimal inspections and minimal repairs."

(Dillon) Arnie Gundersen is a nuclear engineer who has followed Vermont Yankee closely over the years. The plant is facing an uncertain future -the Shumlin Administration wants it closed next year. Gundersen says major expenses have been put off to the future outages.

(Gundersen) "In 2013 they’ve decided to do a lot of inspections, including testing the containment and testing some hard to get to welds in the reactor. And that’s going to take a lot more time than a normal outage. Then the next big one is 2015, and that’s the one where they’ve gotten capital permission from Entergy to spend over $100 million."

(Dillon) Much of that $100 million dollars will be used to replace the plant’s condenser – a key component use to cool steam and turn it back to liquid water. The condenser contains thousands of tubes, some of which have started to leak.

Yankee spokesman Larry Smith says technicians will make all necessary repairs and will not take any shortcuts in next week’s outage.

(Smith) "It’s again work that was planned over 18 months ago. We haven’t changed anything as a result of what’s going on."

(Dillon) Smith says the inspection and maintenance work includes 5,000 individual tasks and involves about 1,000 additional workers.

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

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