Radiation Levels Concern State at Vermont Yankee

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(Host) State officials have raised a warning flag about radiation levels at the boundary of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) When state regulators approved Vermont Yankee’s plans last year to boost power by twenty percent, they did so with several key conditions. One was that the radiation levels at the plant fence line not exceed the state health standard of twenty millirems a year.

Officials have now taken a closer look at the way Yankee calculates the radiation exposure. And they say the plant would exceed the state standard if the reactor is retrofitted to produce more power.

(Obrien) “What was assumed during the case is not what we’re seeing today.”

(Dillon) David O’Brien is the commissioner of the state Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers. He says officials have learned that the way Yankee calculates radiation at the plant’s fence line yields a lower exposure level than the method the state uses.

(OBrien) “Whether it ultimately changes the outcome of the decision toward the uprate and meeting an acceptable state standard, we don’t know the answer to that right now. That’s why we’ve been working with the Health Department and expect to bring in some outside help to sort this out.”

(Dillon) The state brought the issue to the attention of the Public Service Board late last week. The letter says that there’s a potential that Yankee may have to reduce power in order to lower radiation levels

(Dillon) The state used a conservative method to measure gamma ray radiation exposure. But the method Yankee uses comes up with a number that is twenty-nine percent lower. Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says plant officials will take steps to reduce radiation exposure if necessary.

(Williams) “Two options are adding more shielding to the plant, or actually reducing plant output. So that was our suggestion back during the public Service Board proceeding.”

(Dillon) Even a strong critic of the plant said the radiation levels don’t pose a major public health threat. Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition.

(Shadis) “These aren’t huge numbers in terms of an immediate impact on health and the environment. But they are to be taken seriously in terms of whether or not a protective and conservative radiation standard is going to be met.”

(Dillon) The New England Coalition raised the radiation exposure issue during the Yankee uprate case. Shadis says it’s up to the Public Service Board to decide what to do next.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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