Missing Fuel Rod Pieces May Be in Fuel Pool

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(Host) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is investigating whether Entergy has complied with regulations and kept good records on radioactive fuel at the Vermont Yankee Plant in Vernon. In April, two pieces of highly radioactive fuel were reported missing. Vermont Yankee now says it’s possible that the pieces have been inside the plant’s spent fuel pool all along.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The NRC requires a very careful accounting of highly radioactive nuclear fuel. A plant is supposed to maintain accurate records that show the “receipt, inventory, disposal, acquisition and transfer” of nuclear material.

This spring, Yankee officials announced they had lost track of fuel rod pieces that were last seen in 1979. Records showed the pieces were safely stored in a metal bucket inside the spent fuel pool. But when engineers looked inside the bucket, they found it was empty.

When operators of the Millstone reactor in Connecticut lost two fuel rods in 2002, the NRC levied a fine of $288,000.

Diane Screnci of the NRC says the Yankee investigation continues, and that it’s too soon to say if the Vermont plant violated the NRC regulations.

(Screnci) “I think it would be accurate to say that we’re looking to be sure that all our requirements were followed.”

(Dillon) When the fuel rods turned up missing in April, Yankee used a robotic camera to comb through the 40-foot deep spent fuel pool. The company reported in late May that the camera also looked inside containers in the fuel pool and that the search turned up nothing.

But now Yankee says that a review of records at a California lab shows that the lab shipped a container to the Vermont reactor around the same time that the fuel was last seen. When they got this news, Yankee officials went back to the videotape and saw that this same cylindrical container is apparently at the bottom of the spent fuel pool.

Yankee spokesman Larry Smith could not explain why the camera search in May failed to pinpoint the container.

(Smith) “There’s a lot of things in the fuel pool, perhaps the camera couldn’t get everywhere.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas is clearly not pleased that Yankee lost track of the fuel rods. He says it’s good news that the radioactive material may be found, but he says he expected the plant to keep better records.

(Douglas) “It’s very curious that it took this additional step to move them to review their film and look at additional parts of the pool to make this discovery. This has been a series of missteps that are quite troubling that I know to people in our state and to those of us in state government as well.”

(Dillon) Yankee plans to use special equipment to open the container next week.

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

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