NRC says Vermont Yankee must study metal fatigue

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(Host) A federal review panel says Entergy Vermont Yankee should not be allowed to operate after 2012 unless it conducts a more detailed analysis of aging metal components.

The decision marks the first time that the three-judge panel has ruled against a company’s application for a license extension.

But Yankee says it’s already doing the studies that the panel has called for.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board met this summer to consider a number of challenges to Yankee’s request to extend its license after 2012.

The New England Coalition, a nuclear watchdog group, raised concerns about metal fatigue. The coalition argued that when reactor parts are exposed to high heat and pressure, the metal can fail.

The three judges on the review panel agreed that Entergy Vermont Yankee needs to do more work to address public safety issues.

Neil Sheehan is a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the licensing board. He said the board told the company it needs to do a more detailed analysis of the effects of metal fatigue on certain nozzles in the reactor system.

(Sheehan) “This is one of the boundaries that help insure that no radiation would escape to the environment. And it’s very important to the overall safety of the plant. And therefore you need to do everything possible to make sure that these nozzles hold up over the course of an additional 20 years.”

(Dillon) Yankee’s license extension case is moving on a number of fronts. It needs approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The state Public Service Board is also reviewing the request. And the Vermont legislature will have a say as well.

Sheehan said this ruling by the three judge safety and licensing board is an unusual setback for a nuclear plant operator.

(Sheehan) This would be the first time that an Atomic and Safety Licensing Board panel has ruled in favor of the interveners in a license renewal proceeding.

(Dillon) The panel said the company’s analysis of metal fatigue was -quote "flawed by numerous uncertainties" and produced "unrealistically optimistic results."

But an advisor for the New England Coalition – the group that raised the metal fatigue issue – said the panel did not raise a huge hurdle for Entergy.

(Shadis) "What they have done in their order is set up a barrier that is not all that difficult to overcome."

(Dillon) Ray Shadis helped prepare the technical case for last summer’s hearing.

(Shadis) "My recollection of it was that Entergy was undertaking to do confirmatory analyses in any case. So there’s that hurdle, but in terms of assurance that equipment will not fail, in terms of assurance of public health and safety, this is really a small contribution when a large contribution was in order."

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Larry Smith agreed that the more in-depth studies were already underway.

(Smith) We had previously begun already on the two analyses and we’re confident that they will show that there’s significant margin in those components so they’ll continue to be in service safely throughout the license renewal period.

(Dillon) Smith said the review panel rejected two of the four challenges raised by the New England Coalition. Shadis said his group will ask the panel to reconsider.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File

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