State says separate Yankee review unnecessary

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(Host) The state of Vermont does not support an independent federal safety review of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Opponents of a plan to increase power at the plant by 20% say it makes sense to do a full, top-to-bottom study of the 31-year-old reactor. But Public Service Commission David O’Brien says the review is not needed, and could unnecessarily alarm the public.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, wants to generate another 110 megawatts at the reactor. The plan is under review at the Public Service Board and the state department that represents ratepayers has not endorsed the proposal.

Opponents of the plan want a complete safety review of the aging reactor. They say that a similar review at a nuclear power plant in Maine uncovered serious safety problems that eventually led to the decision to shut down the plant.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission plant will closely examine the plant during its next refueling outage. But he says a separate safety study is needed.

(O’Brien) “I think fundamentally for the governor to be calling for an independent safety assessment when there is not a record of problems, sends a bad signal. That suggests there is a problem that we don’t have any evidence that is there. I think, finally, we need to manage expectations for people about what an independent safety assessment really means, and is there is there really anything incremental or different about what they’re asking for, versus what the NRC is going to do, just as a matter of course.”

(Dillon) According to O’Brien, the Maine nuclear plant had serious management and safety problems that led the governor to ask for the federal review.

(O’Brien) “We have not seen any of the operational problems or history with Vermont Yankee that Maine Yankee had. In fact, Vermont Yankee is viewed in the industry as one of the more exemplary plants in terms of operational integrity and that sort of thing.”

(Dillon) But Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition, a group that’s fighting the power increase proposal, says Vermont Yankee is an old reactor that should be very carefully examined. He accuses O’Brien of trying to protect the company rather than ratepayers. According to Shadis, the Maine plant also had a good record until a whistleblower came forward with evidence of problems

(Shadis) “The plant was thought to be a world class plant, a leader in the industry, very much like Vermont Yankee. So the comparisons that the commissioner is bringing forward are based on inaccurate, incorrect and maybe even fraudulent information. It’s a shame to see them be apologists for a company that is going to put Vermonters at risk.”

(Dillon) State officials do not support the Yankee plan on economic grounds. O’Brien says he wants Entergy to protect Vermont ratepayers if the power increases causes the plant to be shut down for long periods of time.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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