Ratepayers Will Cover Expense of Yankee Repairs

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(Host) An unplanned shutdown at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant will come before the plant was scheduled to be sold to a Louisiana energy company. That means Vermont ratepayers – and not the new owners – will eventually have to foot the bill for the repairs.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Vermont Yankee officials knew in December that two of its fuel rod assemblies were leaking. When more radiation began showing up in the cooling water, operators learned that the problem extends to five of the 368 fuel rod assemblies.

The state’s nuclear engineer says the level of radiation is well below safety limits and can’t be detected outside the plant. But the leaking fuel rods have forced an unplanned, and potentially costly shutdown.

Yankee had wanted to run the reactor right through the summer and fall, when the plant was scheduled to go off line for refueling. Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the repairs must be done in May. He says the plant will be back online during hot summer months when replacement power is more expensive:

(Williams) "By doing this work before the summertime, that ensures that we’ll be able to continue to supply power during the period of highest demand."

(Dillon) The Vermont owners of the plant want to sell the reactor by July to the Entergy Corporation, based in Louisiana. State regulators are now reviewing the sale.

If the fuel rods were repaired after the sale, Entergy would have paid for the work. Because the repairs will be done this spring, the cost will eventually be passed through to ratepayers.

Public Service Commissioner Christine Salembier, whose department represents ratepayers, says the repairs need to be made soon:

(Salembier) "Safety is really is our first issue, our first concern. The problem has to be taken care of right now. So the sale is really secondary to that."

(Dillon) Vermont Yankee critics say the fuel rod issue points out the problem of older nuclear power plants.

They say the 30-year old reactor will eventually require more and more costly repairs. The critics say the plant should be shut down, not sold.

But Steve Costello, a spokesman for Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, says the upcoming repairs give a perfect example of why the plant should be sold. Costello says when the plant is sold the risks and the costs will be transferred to the new owners:

(Costello) "Once the sale goes through and in the future if problems like this crop up – if the plant goes offline for any reason – we won’t have to pay for the power or for the operating costs of that plant… and then go into the market and buy power, like we’re having to do now."

(Dillon) Replacement power for the two week outage will cost CVPS about $1.2 million dollars. Green Mountain Power, the plant’s other principal Vermont owner, will also have to buy replacement power.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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