State asks NRC to investigate Yankee cooling towers

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(Host) The state of Vermont wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to inspect Vermont Yankee’s cooling towers.

The state says it needs assurance that the leaking towers don’t compromise safety at the nuclear plant.

And officials are questioning whether Yankee has the management expertise to run the plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The cooling system at the nuclear plant has been plagued by leaks over the last year. Part of a cooling tower collapsed a year ago, and structural problems this July were traced to faulty repairs made after the earlier accident.

And officials learned late this week that six support columns in the towers need to be replaced.

The Department of Public Service says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs take another look at the towers that are used to cool the 36-year-old reactor.

Department spokesman Steve Wark said the state has some basic questions.

(Wark) “What was missed? Why does this keep happening, and was anything else missed? And we need to feel comfortable that that does not extend to any nuclear components. This right now is a non-nuclear component, and that’s what we’re told and the inspections all indicate that. But we need to make sure.”

(Dillon) Federal regulators say only one of the 22 cells in the cooling towers are needed for plant safety – the rest of the system is used to cool water before it’s returned to the Connecticut River.

But Wark said the state needs to know if the safety cell has been compromised. He says the state is assessing Yankee management as part of an ongoing audit of the plant.

(Wark) “Because, frankly, we’re concerned that the leadership at Vermont Yankee has created a huge question mark at the plant, mostly because of how they’re dealing with these persistent failures. And so it raises the question, at least in our mind: Is Entergy capable of running this plant?”

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Larry Smith disagreed with Wark’s statements.

(Smith) "Of course we have the expertise to operate the plant. Vermont Yankee today is in its 385th continuous day of on line operation with a capacity factor of 91 percent. It’s due to our constant focus on safety."

(Dillon) A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said before it launches a new review, it has to finish an investigation into a July cooling system leak.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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