Federal regulators prepare for strike at Vermont Yankee plant

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(Host) Federal regulators are preparing for the possibility of a strike at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it’s ready to step up its inspection program if workers walk off their jobs later this week.

The contract talks end tonight, and union members will vote tomorrow whether to accept the offer.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The union that represents Vermont Yankee workers says negotiations are stalled.

Corey Daniels, chairman of Unit 8 of local 300 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, says the wages and health benefits are still the sticking points in the negotiations.

(Daniels) “The proposals right now are still vastly apart. We’re hopeful that we can make up some ground and present a fair package to employees by tonight or tomorrow. But right now, most of the onus is on the company to provide some movement in their last offer.”

(Dillon) The union represents 148 workers. Daniels says the company wants the employees to pay more for health coverage and has proposed a salary increase that is less than the rate of inflation.

According to Daniels, the company hasn’t substantially changed its position in a week.

But Yankee spokesman Brian Cosgrove says the situation is still fluid. He’s hopeful that a strike will be averted.

(Cosgrove) “I think as long as we’re talking and as long as the conversation is going on, there’s always a good possibility we can reach some sort of agreement.”

(Dillon) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires Yankee to have a contingency plan for trained replacements to take over reactor operations if a strike is called. The NRC will also step up its own inspection program. Neil Sheehan is a commission spokesman.

(Sheehan) “We have our own contingency plan in place that basically involves going to round the clock inspections for at least the first two weeks of the strike. And even after that we would have a heightened presence at the site. So we are paying very close attention to the situation and believe we’re prepared to deal with it.”

(Dillon) Sheehan says other nuclear plants have experienced strikes before. He says a strike at the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey last year lasted two months.

The labor unrest at Yankee comes as the plant’s owners want to boost power at the plant by 20 percent. On Wednesday, the NRC turned down the state’s request for more time to request a hearing on the power uprate issue.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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