Utilities Sue Entergy Over Cooling Tower Failures

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(Host) Vermont’s two largest electric utilities have sued Entergy-Vermont Yankee over cooling tower failures at the nuclear power plant more than four years ago.

The utilities say Yankee failed to follow standard utility practice to inspect and maintain the tower.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The picture more than anything told the story. The image from the summer of 2007 showed a cascade of water spewing from Yankee’s cooling tower on to a pile of crumpled debris.

The photo undermined public confidence in Entergy’s ability to maintain its aging nuclear plant. Now the accident has led to litigation.

(Schnure) "We’ve been talking over the past years with Entergy to settle this issue and weren’t able to do so. And actually because of the statute of limitations we had to take this action now."

(Dillon) Dorothy Schnure is spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power. She says GMP and Central Vermont Public Service had to pay more for replacement power when they lost part of their electric supply because Yankee’s cooling structures failed in 2007 and 2008.

(Schnure) "We believe that Entergy did not operate the plant properly to be able to prevent those. They used remote inspections rather than direct inspections. And we really believe industry operating experience could have led them to run the plant in a way that would have avoided the cooling tower failures."

(Dillon) The first tower failure in 2007 forced Yankee to cut its power output by 65 percent for 11 days.

An investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission blamed the failure on over-tightened bolts and wood rot that had gone undetected.

A second tower sprung a leak in July 2008, causing the plant to reduce power for 12 days. The utilities say this second failure was caused by sagging pipe supports within the tower structure.

Schnure says the utilities have a contract with Entergy that is supposed to cover replacement power costs. CVPS and GMP want $6.6 million in compensation. They also want Entergy to pay interest and their legal fees.

(Schnure) "According to our contract, they have an obligation to provide the power and they were unable to do so."

(Dillon) A spokesman for Entergy Vermont Yankee said he could not comment because of the pending litigation.

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

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