Search for fuel rod parts moves from pool to written records

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(Host) After a lengthy search with a robotic camera, technicians at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant have not found missing fuel rod segments in the spent fuel pool. The investigation to locate the pieces continues, with Yankee officials sifting through thousands of documents, some dating back 25 years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Yankee officials say that they’ve just about given up on finding the missing fuel rod pieces in the spent fuel pool. Video cameras searched through the 40-foot deep pool for several weeks and turned up nothing. Plant spokesman Brian Cosgrove says that the search has shifted to interviews and digging through 25 years worth of files.

(Cosgrove) “We have a team of people we’ve put together that’s reviewing, I don’t know, 3,000-3,500 documents that include all sorts of data on the spent fuel pool, including radiological controls, fuel movements, any kind of shipping that’s gone on when we have cleaned out the pool and removed some of the non-fuel items that were in there to low level waste facilities. So we’re in the process of examining all those records right now.”

(Dillon) Yankee’s records had indicated that the highly radioactive pieces were stored in the spent fuel pool. But last month, when a federal inspector asked to see them, they could not be found.

Only one other nuclear plant – the Millstone reactor in Connecticut – has lost fuel rods. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined Millstone $288,000. NRC spokesman Neal Sheehan says it’s too early to discuss possible sanctions against Vermont Yankee.

(Sheehan) “Right now, we’re following up on their initial efforts and then we’re going to launch a more comprehensive review of their accountability efforts sometime in the near future. But they still have a considerable amount of work to do. The search of the spent fuel pool is one piece of it. But with the evidence becoming pretty clear that they’re not going to find the pieces in that pool, they’re going to have to broaden the search.”

(Dillon) The NRC oversight of Vermont Yankee has come under fire from the New England Coalition, a watchdog group based in Brattleboro. Peter Alexander is the coalition’s executive director:

(Alexander) “I think it’s extremely unlikely that we’re going to see a satisfactory resolution to this issue. But in a way, it begs the more important question which is, how is it possible that the NRC oversight has been so lax that they have missed this for 25 years?”

(Dillon) According to Alexander, technicians at the Millstone reactor in Connecticut spent two years and $10 million looking for the fuel rods that were lost. The rods were never found.

Vermont Yankee officials won’t say how much their search has cost.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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