Problems at Vermont Yankee shake public confidence

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(Host) Critics of Vermont Yankee say the most recent problems with the nuclear plant’s cooling tower show a disturbing pattern of poor management and lax state oversight.

But state officials say they’re not getting the cooperation they need from the plant’s operators. 

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The past week has further shaken public confidence in the 36-year-old nuclear power plant.

A week ago, Yankee had to cut power by 75 percent because a pipe carrying cooling water from the Connecticut River began leaking 60 gallons a minute.

The problems came almost a year after a cooling tower collapsed at the plant. Yankee has acknowledged that the subsequent repairs were insufficient – and led to the recent problems.

But Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says the state’s oversight is also inadequate.

(Burns) “The state claims to have responsibility over the reliability issues at that plant. Why the heck are they not responsible for this? Why were they not in a place to say, `OK, this design fix makes sense to us.’ It ought to last more than 11 months. That is insane that you are back here today, less than one year after that catastrophic failure, and you’re essentially running into the very same problem again. Sure, Entergy is responsible and heads should roll there, too. But I think the state bears some responsibility as well.”

(Host) Burns held a news conference with Bob Stannard, a lobbyist with Citizens Action Network. Stannard said the state needs to be more vigilant.

(Stannard) “Who’s accountable? If these folks can’t catch a water leak, heaven help us should they ever have a radiation leak at this plant.”

(Dillon) Officials at the Department of Public Service say they were disappointed that Yankee did not promptly notify the state of the leak.

But department spokesman Steve Wark rejected the charge that the state was responsible for making sure last year’s tower repairs were adequate.

(Wark) “We have a very specific bandwidth of operation with our authority and we use that to the maximum and in many cases we push further than we can. So this sort of conversation is, frankly, unfair and uncalled for.”

(Dillon) Wark said he was frustrated with how long it took Yankee to notify the state of the most recent problems. Officials have complained that it took several hours before they got word of the leak.

(Wark) “This issue that most recently happened, this leak, just continues to raise our concerns about the poor leadership and management of that plant. And we will continue to address those issues. Communications is just one piece of that.”

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Rob Williams said that the company will work with the state to resolve the communications issues.

And Wark said federal regulators – who have jurisdiction over safety – remain convinced the plant is safe.

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

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