NRC To Increase Oversight Of Vermont Yankee

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(Host) Federal regulators will increase oversight of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant because of recent radiation leaks and misstatements by plant executives.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that under normal circumstances, Yankee would not need additional inspections. That’s because the plant rates high on the commission’s ranking of safety and performance.

But it’s stepping up the scrutiny because of the plant’s recent history. NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says the agency is concerned about the tritium leaks and misinformation about underground pipes.

(Sheehan) "And that had to do with the Entergy officials who have been disciplined by the company for giving inaccurate testimony to the state legislature on piping at the plant. We are checking to make sure that any documentation that was provided to us by those same individuals was full and accurate."

(Dillon) Besides misleading lawmakers, Entergy Vermont Yankee executives also testified under oath that the plant did not have pipes that could leak radioactivity.

That turned out to be false. And Attorney General Bill Sorrell is now pursuing a criminal investigation.

The NRC had issued a "deviation memo" to justify the additional inspections at Yankee. It’s called a deviation memo because it allows the agency to depart from normal procedures and assign more people to the job.

(Sheehan) "So the staff is now saying we’ve got all these activities taking place, we need to deviate from that slightly and devote some additional resources, can we get the clearance to go ahead and do that."

(Dillon) Sheehan says two additional people will likely be assigned to look at the groundwater contamination issues and the accuracy of information given to the government.

But one Yankee critic is not comforted by the additional oversight. Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for Citizens Action Network, said the NRC staff has already recommended that Yankee operate for another 20 years past its 2012 shutdown date.

(Stannard) "Most of who have followed this plant and this issue for some time have seen that the NRC’s job appears to do whatever it takes to is to re-license all 104 plants, it’s not to look out for the best interests of the American public. Then this follow the pattern – what they’re trying to do is put on a show so that they can come back and say that the plant is safe."

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said the NRC action was not a surprise.

(Smith) "It’s nothing out of the ordinary other than that these are two special inspections that we’re going to be working with them to resolve."

(Dillon) Meanwhile, Yankee is the focus of more scrutiny on the state level as well. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen – a member of a state panel – told the Associated Press that the recent radiation leaks stemmed from eight separate failures in plant systems.

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

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