Missing fuel rods won’t affect NRC’s decision on uprate

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(Host) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the missing fuel rods at Vermont Yankee will not affect a decision on an increase in power at the plant. NRC inspectors are at Vermont Yankee this week to look for the missing fuel components. But the agency says that work won’t be connected to its review of a controversial request to generate more power there.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The two, highly radioactive pieces of the fuel rod were last seen in 1979. When Yankee officials couldn’t find them last week, critics cited the missing components as the reason why an independent safety assessment is needed at the 33-year-old plant.

Governor Jim Douglas says the missing fuel rods have caused him to lose confidence in Vermont Yankee. Douglas wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a new engineering assessment before it allows the plant to boost power by 20 percent.

But a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the two issues are not related. Neil Sheehan is with the NRC.

(Sheehan) “Certainly we’re concerned about their control of this material, and we expect them to have rigorous process to make sure these items are where they are supposed to be. But there is no direct linkage between their ability to operate at a higher power level and their ability to track down really what is legacy material for them.”

(Dillon) The two pieces of the broken fuel rod were supposed to be stored in a container within the pool. But that container wasn’t opened and checked until this spring. Sheehan says the NRC required the check after the Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut also lost two fuel rods.

(Sheehan) “They agreed to do that and when they did in fact check, they were unable to locate these two segments that were supposed to be in this container. So that’s how we ended up where we are today.”

(Dillon) Yankee has brought in a robotic camera to look for the material at the bottom of its spent fuel pool. It’s also going over records to see if the fuel rod pieces were mistakenly shipped out as low level radioactive waste, or if they were sent to an outside lab for testing.

But in Connecticut, the missing fuel rods were never found. Sheehan says that could happen at Vermont Yankee, too.

(Sheehan) “There is always that possibility that they’ll be unable to unravel this riddle anymore that they were unable to unravel the Millstone riddle.”

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the robotic camera may yield results by mid-week. He says the last records that show the material was actually seen in the pool date back 25 years.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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