(Host) Federal regulators said on Monday that they won’t approve Vermont Yankee’s proposal to boost its power output unless they’re assured that the plan is safe. Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the state Public Service Board that they’ll use new inspection procedures to examine the 32-year-old reactor.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) The NRC promises an independent review of Yankee’s plan to boost power by 20 percent. Bill Ruland is a top NRC official who oversees the power increases around the country. He told the Public Service Board that Entergy, the company that owns Yankee, still has work to do before its plans are accepted.
(Ruland) “Entergy must provide sufficient justification to prove to us that safety is maintained. They aren’t there yet. And our review is not done.”
(Dillon) The state Public Service Board asked for the independent engineering assessment in March when it approved the power upgrade. The board doesn’t have the legal authority to regulate safety issues. So it framed its request in terms of reliability.
The NRC responded with a new inspection pilot program that it’s trying first at Vermont Yankee. The plan includes six people working for six weeks, with two weeks spent on-site in Vernon.
A number of plants that have boosted power generation have experienced mechanical failures caused by increased vibration or heat. Ruland from the NRC says that inspectors will pay particular attention to cracks that have developed in Yankee’s steam dryer, a key component of the plant.
(Ruland) “The integrity of the steam dryer is important because of the potential for loose parts to damage accident mitigation equipment. As part of our review we have asked Entergy to provide additional analysis and date to address this issue.”
(Dillon) The stream dryer cracks are not the only recent problems at Vermont Yankee. Plant operators can’t find two pieces of a highly radioactive fuel rod. And a fire near a transformer ten days ago forced the plant to shutdown. But Ruland says the fire and missing fuel rods will be handled separately from the power uprate review.
PSB Chairman Michael Dworkin asked the NRC to consider allowing members of the public to participate in the upcoming inspection
(Dworkin) “It strikes me there are two reasons to involve other people in your process. And one is so they know what’s going on. This is what you referred to as public understanding. And the other is it might bring insights to you that you wouldn’t have on your own.”
(Dillon) The NRC officials weren’t particularly receptive to the idea. They said their own inspectors will come from outside the region. And they said that if other experts – such as those employed by the New England Coalition nuclear watchdog group – want to get involved, they’ll have to send their resumes to the NRC consultant working on the Vermont Yankee inspection.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.