NRC agrees to independent review of Vermont Yankee

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(Host) Federal regulators have agreed to conduct a detailed engineering assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the new inspection should satisfy the state’s request for additional review before Yankee is allowed to boost its power output.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state Public Service Board ruled in March that it would give final approval for a 20 percent power increase at Vermont Yankee only if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted an independent engineering review. Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan says the NRC has ordered an inspection that should meet the board’s request.

Sheehan says the NRC plans to look at key components of the plant that would be affected by the power boost, including the reactor containment and emergency cooling systems. He says the new inspection will take about 700 hours of work.

(Sheehan) “It will involve at least six engineers, with various specialties – including two contractors who are completely independent of any of our Vermont Yankee oversight, and at least some of the engineers who have had no direct involvement with the Vermont Yankee inspections.”

(Dillon) After the NRC announced its decision on Wednesday, a nuclear watchdog group and the Douglas administration both took credit for getting the federal agency to commit to the extra level of review. Governor Jim Douglas said through his spokesman that the state was aggressive in its attempts to convince the NRC that it should conduct the independent assessment.

Yet during the Public Service Board’s hearings last year on the Yankee power boost, the state did not advocate for an additional federal review. However, state officials supported the Public Service Board’s ruling. And after Yankee lost two pieces of a highly radioactive fuel rod, officials did call for a new study of the plant.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says the state is pleased with the NRC decision.

(O’Brien) “They have responded to the Public Service Board with a level of assessment that is beyond just the uprate review. It involves a level of independence. It looks at two safety systems and two non-safety systems at a minimum.”

(Dillon) The New England Coalition, a nuclear watchdog group, said it was their call for an even more detailed safety assessment that raised the issue at the state and federal level. Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition. He says the NRC inspection goes further than what the Public Service Board called for.

(Shadis) “In some respects it seems to surpass it because the NRC mentions for example, safety concerns, which the Vermont Public Service Board avoided.”

(Dillon) The NRC hasn’t worked out the final details of its inspection. An agency spokesman said the work will probably take place this summer.

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

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