Fire Caused Vermont Yankee Cooling Pumps to Stop

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(Host) New details have emerged about a fire last week at the state’s only nuclear power plant. The blaze that started near a transformer caused cooling pumps that supply water to the reactor to stop working.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The fire at Vermont Yankee in Vernon began early Friday morning. The blaze took about a half hour to extinguish and forced the plant to shut down.

Vermont Yankee officials say the fire didn’t cause much damage. Plant spokesman Rob Williams says an emergency sprinkler system doused the fire and protected most of the equipment. He says that the heat did damage some ductwork and equipment that connects the transformer to the generator.

The fire also caused the plant’s circulation pumps to trip, or stop working. Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition, a nuclear watchdog group. He says the fact the pumps tripped shows the incident was more serious than Yankee originally reported.

(Shadis) “The pumps are part of a multi-line defense that would come into play should you have a nuclear accident. You would then be depending on your re-circulation pumps in part to keep the reactor cool. So they have a real safety significance. And I think the significance in this instance is that Entergy, the NRC, no one can tell why they tripped.”

(Dillon) Williams from Vermont Yankee says operators are investigating why the circulation pumps stopped.

(Williams) “In a normal shutdown from full power, they would stay operating. But possibly not unexpected, because of the electrical problems out in the switchyard may have induced some problem that may have made the circulation pumps shutdown. But that’s one of the things we’re looking into.”

(Dillon) Williams says he can’t predict when the plant will come back online. In the meantime, Vermont utilities that rely on Vermont Yankee are buying replacement power.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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