Federal Nuclear Officials to Discuss Vermont Yankee Review on Monday

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(Host) Federal regulators will come to Vermont next week to explain how they plan to review a proposed power boost at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) When the Public Service Board this spring approved Vermont Yankee’s plans to boost its power by 20 percent, it did so only under the condition that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission conduct a detailed engineering assessment of the 32-year-old reactor. The NRC agreed. And on Monday, NRC officials will be in Montpelier to answer the board’s questions about the review.

A document prepared by the federal agency shows that the engineering assessment will take place over six weeks. The schedule includes two weeks of preparation, two weeks of on-site inspection, and two weeks back in the office.

Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition, the group that originally called for a safety inspection of the plant. He says a lot will depend on the team of engineers that NRC brings in.

(Shadis) “All in all, it does look like they’re planning to do an in-depth examination of several systems. So as it stands, it looks like a good examination. We’re concerned it lists only about two weeks of actual on-site physical examination, with the rest of it back in the office paper chase. The plant we believe merits a great deal more than that.”

(Dillon) Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien, whose department represents ratepayers, says he’s pleased with the NRC plan.

(O’Brien) “Our response at this time is generally positive. We think that what the NRC has proposed meets the Public Service Board request and in very some basic ways it exceeds what the board had asked.”

(Dillon) The PSB had asked for four people to work over four weeks to inspect the plant. O’Brien says the NRC plans to send six people for six weeks. O’Brien says he’s also been told that review team will be independent and from outside the region.

Yankee has experienced several problems over the last few months. About 20 cracks were discovered in the plant’s steam dryer. Reactor operators have been unable to find two pieces of a highly radioactive fuel rod. And last week, the plant was shut down after a fire near a main transformer.

The plant is still shutdown, and Yankee officials have not said when it will come back on line. In the meantime, Vermont utilities are buying more expensive replacement power. Steve Costello is spokesman for Central Vermont Public Service Corporation.

(Costello) “It’s costing us several hundred thousand dollars a week at this point. We’ve been able to make bi-lateral contracts and avoid the spot market to replace the power. But it is costing us more than it would have been had the plant been running. On the other hand, this is one of the reason we sold the plant when we did was to reduce the risk of outages and the cost of those.”

(Dillon) Costello says that if CVPS still owned the plant, it would have to pay for the repairs, as well as the replacement power.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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