Opposition voiced to Vermont Yankee retrofit plan

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(Host) Nuclear power opponents say it’s unsafe to squeeze more electricity out of the 30 year old Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. In documents filed with state regulators, they argue that the plant’s aging equipment could fail under the stress of the additional heat and radiation. But there’s a question whether state officials have much authority over the safety questions. The owners of Vermont Yankee say the issue should be decided by federal regulators.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Entergy Corporation bought Vermont Yankee last year and now it wants to want to retrofit the plant to produce 20% more power. The request is before the Public Service Board, the three-member panel that regulates utilities in Vermont. Opponents have raised several questions about safety.

(Ray Shadis) “You have any number of components that under increased steam flow could fail.”

(Dillon) Ray Shadis is an expert from Maine who’s working with the New England Coalition, a Brattleboro based group that’s fighting the plan. Vermont Yankee uses heat from a nuclear reaction to boil water. The steam then drives a turbine that produces electricity. Shadis says the increased steam pressure and high levels of radiation can weaken the pipes and other older equipment inside the plant.

Shadis says that with any kind of machinery, equipment tends to break more often as it ages.

(Shadis) “And so this is a point where Vermont Yankee is now getting into that age, where you can expect an increased number of component failures. For those that may be critical to safety that would lead to the beginnings of an accident, yeah we have great concerns.”

(Dillon) The New England Coalition and others have called for an independent safety review of the plant. But Entergy, the plant’s owners, say the state doesn’t have much oversight on safety issues. Entergy officials say the NRC has approved power increases for about 30 other boiling water reactors. They say the power expansion – which is called an uprate – is safe and is routine in the industry. Rob Williams is the Vermont Yankee spokesman.

(Williams) “First off, this plant, the material condition of this plant, is subject to very rigorous testing programs that meet strict federal regulations. And if plant opponents know of any instance where our plant, or inspection programs, don’t meet requirements either presently or in an uprate they should say so.”

(Dillon) Yankee will go to the NRC in November for an amended operating license. It wants complete state approval by October, one month before. But Yankee says the state could condition its approval on the federal review.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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