PSB Holds Hearing On Yankee Leaks

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(Host) State regulators want to know if they have the authority to shut down Vermont Yankee while it is leaking radioactivity into the environment.

The Public Service Board held a hearing on the issue on Wednesday. The board asked Yankee to turn over information on the leaks – and what the company is doing to stop them.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Public Service Board opened the investigation at the request of environmentalists who want Yankee closed to stop the leaks of radioactive material.

But the board is trying to thread its way carefully through an important legal question. The federal government has jurisdiction over nuclear plant safety. State governments can weigh in on economics, land use and the reliability of nuclear plants.

PSB Chairman James Volz laid out his concerns during a preliminary hearing in the case.

(Volz) "I think we have to be pretty careful about what we’re doing because of the pre-emption issue. We don’t want to just quickly move in and take some action that could end up being pre-empted by the federal government and kind of oust us out of the position that we do have."

(Dillon) Volz said the board can move ahead if the investigation focuses on how the leaks affect other issues besides public health and safety.

(Volz) "What’s being released into the environment right now, in what quantities – what  are the impacts of those things that are being released, in particular the environmental impacts, the land use impacts and the reliability impacts."

(Dillon) John Marshal represents Entergy Vermont Yankee. He told the board that the jurisdictional question needs to be resolved first before the company is forced to answer questions about the tritium leak.

(Marshal) "We believe this is the worst time to engage in a rapid disclosure of information about the tritium investigation precisely when the tritium investigation is ongoing and when the people who would have to answer the questions, identify the documents are engaged in trying to complete the investigation."

(Dillon) But Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation – whose legal efforts led to the board’s investigation – said the company should be ordered to turn over information on the leaks within 10 days.

(Levine) "And we would hope that a corporation as large as Entergy should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time be able to fix the leak and at the same time move forward."

(Dillon) Entergy says it’s found two leaks in underground pipes that it had originally told the board did not exist. Company spokesman Larry Smith said neither leak is a threat to public health.

(Smith) "We’re going to continue our investigation to be sure there are no further than two leaks. That first leak we identified on February 15 was a leak that was going into the environment. That leak was stopped. The second leak that we found on March 5 is contained in a concrete tunnel."

(Dillon) The PSB said it will issue an order that sets out a schedule for the company to turn over information in the case.

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


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