Watchdog group loses Vermont Yankee legal challenge

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(Host) A nuclear watchdog group has lost its legal challenge to block a 20% power increase at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The Vermont Supreme Court dismissed the appeal today.

Meanwhile, Vermont Yankee is expected to return to full power soon, now that it has repaired a cooling tower that partially collapsed last month.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The New England Coalition – an anti-nuclear group – said the Public Service Board failed to follow its own orders when it allowed Vermont Yankee to boost its power output by 20%.

The group said the board required a thorough safety review of the plant, yet what it eventually got was a much less detailed inspection.

The New England Coalition said the Public Service Board failed to hold detailed hearings when it accepted the lesser form of inspection.

But the Supreme Court never got to the details of that argument. It dismissed the case on Friday on procedural grounds.

Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition. He was disappointed in the ruling.

(Shadis) "Basically, it’s one squeamish cowardly act following another. Our feeling is the Vermont Supreme Court really ducked their duty in this."

(Dillon) But the Supreme Court said it was Shadis’s group that failed to raise the issue in a timely manner before the Public Service Board.

Meanwhile, federal regulators have finished their preliminary review of the cooling tower that collapsed at Vermont Yankee last month.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the wood structure supporting the tower was weakened by rusting metal and fungal attack.”

Neil Sheehan is an NRC spokesman. He says the same problem did not show up at the one tower that Yankee would use to cool the plant in an emergency.

(Sheehan) "It’s a more thoroughly designed cell than the other cells. It did not apparently experience the kinds of deterioration mechanisms that were experienced by the other cells. And so we are satisfied at least preliminarily that they have gotten to the bottom of that and that it can be safely used."

(Dillon) But Shadis says Yankee had ample warning — including from its own inspections – that the towers were a problem. He’s worried that the same problem that caused the one tower to fail could affect the safety related tower.

(Shadis) "The idea that the safety related cooling towers, which are made of the same material as the cooling tower that fell down… and are of the same age as the cooling tower that fell down are somehow exempt from the laws of nature – it defies reason."

(Dillon) Yankee has been operating at reduced power since the accident. But the NRC says it should be up to 100 percent power this weekend.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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