Lawmakers push for independent review of Vermont Yankee

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(Host) In the coming weeks, lawmakers will be voting on a plan to conduct an independent safety inspection of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

Backers of the proposal say it’s critical to complete the review before the plant can receive a 20-year license extension.

But there’s heated debate over the scope of this investigation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) During the 2009 session, the Legislature is expected to vote on Vermont Yankee’s plan to extend its operating license for another 20 years – from 2012 to 2032.

Some lawmakers are linking that vote to the results of an independent safety review of the plant. Legislation calling for that review has passed the Senate and is now being considered in the House.

James Moore is an energy specialist at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. He says he doesn’t trust the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate the safety condition of the plant:

(Moore) "The office of Inspector General said they don’t trust the way that they NRC is operating right now. The proof is in the pudding we’ve seen accidents there that an quality inspection should have been able to identify and fix before they happened unfortunately what we’ve seen is what’s been looked at there hasn’t been enough."

(Kinzel) Brian Cosgrove is the manager of Government Affairs at Vermont Yankee. He’s concerned that the inspection plan passed by the Senate will take more than a year to complete and will cost millions of dollars:

(Cosgrove) "It would push back the whole Public Service Board process for looking at license renewal at Vermont Yankee. We’re under some time constraints here because Green Mountain Power and CVPS need time to plan Vermont’s energy future and if there’s uncertainty about whether Vermont Yankee will be available to be a part of that mix that creates a lot of problems for people."

(Kinzel) But Moore argues that the inspection can be completed in a timely fashion:

(Moore) "The study that the Legislature has outlined would take approximately 13 weeks it would take a full inspection team 6 weeks on site and 7 weeks off site reviewing their findings and documentation. 13 weeks doesn’t equal more than a year and they actually planned for the inspection to be done during this summer and fall in part when there is an outage."

(Kinzel) Cosgrove says it’s clear that some people just want to shut Vermont Yankee down in 2012. That’s an outcome that he says will be detrimental to the state of Vermont.

(Cosgrove) "The stakes are huge here we’re going into a carbon constrained energy future where electricity is going to be harder and harder to come by more expensive by all indications that we see it’s very hard to site new generation. So, I think it’s a very important issue going forward for all Vermonters to have an adequate and affordable supply of clean air energy for the state of Vermont."

(Kinzel) Because the NRC has the final authority to determine the size and scope of the independent safety inspection at Vermont Yankee, Governor Jim Douglas is pushing for a process that will satisfy the concerns of most lawmakers and meet the approval of the NRC.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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