Spent fuel rods missing from Vermont Yankee

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(Host) A recent federal inspection of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant has revealed that two spent fuel rods are missing.

Plant officials say there’s no threat to public safety because it’s very likely that the rods are still in the facility’s spent fuel pool.

Governor Jim Douglas says the situation is “intolerable and completely unacceptable” and he’s asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to launch a detailed investigation to determine what happened to the missing fuel rods.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Vermont Yankee spokesman Brian Cosgrove says the missing fuel rods were placed in the facility’s spent fuel pool back in 1979 and he described the rods as being the width of a pencil and about 17 inches long.

Cosgrove says Vermont Yankee officials are convinced that the missing fuel rods, which are considered to be highly radioactive waste, are still inside the spent fuel pool:

(Cosgrove) “I want to emphasize that there is not a threat to public health and safety. We assume they’re in the pool and we will locate them after we conduct a full and thorough search both of the pool itself and records going back to 1979 so that the records may indicate that they were moved or placed elsewhere in the pool, and we’ll be researching that as well.”

(Kinzel) Cosgrove says it may take a week or two for Vermont Yankee officials to search through the entire spent fuel pool to find the missing rods:

(Cosgrove) “We will be using remote operated cameras – high resolution cameras – to look at all areas of the spent fuel pool, but it’s about the size of an Olympic swimming pool and there are a large number of spent fuel racks in the pool that we need to maneuver around and under, and so it will take some time to do a thorough inspection.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says the situation at Vermont Yankee is very serious. Late yesterday the governor spoke with the acting chairman of the NRC to demand swift action by the federal government:

(Douglas) “It’s totally unacceptable to have missing spent fuel rods. The most important consideration at a nuclear power plant is its safety, and keeping track of radioactive material is one of the most important responsibilities that the operator of such a plant has.”

(Kinzel) And Douglas says this situation needs to be dealt with in an expedited manner.

(Douglas) “We have to be sure that the public’s safety is insured and these are materials that need to be contained and kept out of public circulation for a long, long time. It’s the responsibility of the operator of the plant to make sure they’re accounted for and that they’re kept safely literally forever. So it’s important to me that we get to the bottom of this, that we understand what happened, that we find these rods and account for them as soon as we can.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says state officials will work closely with the NRC during the upcoming federal investigation into this matter.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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