Watchdog says Yankee withheld information from hearings

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(Host) A nuclear power watchdog group wants state regulators to halt hearings on Vermont Yankee’s plan to boost its power by 20%. Last week, the Vermont Public Service Board invited the opponents to recommend sanctions against Vermont Yankee because the company has failed to turn over documents in a timely manner. The opponents on Wednesday said they want the hearings halted for at least six months to give them time to prepare their case.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Last week’s action by the Public Service Board was highly unusual in the normally congenial world of utility regulation. The three-member board, which acts as a judge in utility cases, was upset with Entergy/Vermont Yankee, the company that owns the state’s only nuclear power plant. The board learned that Yankee had failed to provide a complete set of documents on its plans to boost power at the 31 year old reactor.

It wasn’t the first time the issue had come up. The board earlier this summer ordered Yankee to turn over the documents to members of the New England Coalition, a nuclear watchdog group. But last week, the board was angry that Yankee hadn’t followed those orders. In strong language, board members said it appeared Yankee was trying to trick opponents by using an incomplete set of records to impeach a key witness.

So the board asked the coalition member Ray Shadis to recommend appropriate sanctions. On Wednesday, Shadis told the board he wants the hearings halted for at least six months.

(Shadis) “The upshot of it is Entergy has ruined the information gathering aspects of this hearing. The only way that we can see to remedy this is to go back to the beginning.”

(Dillon) Shadis says a key witness for his side is now back teaching full time and will need more time to prepare his testimony based on the additional documents. He says Entergy must pay for the additional work.

(Shadis) “We expended money that people with very little money donated for this cause. And we don’t have an awful lot in the bank. We’re certainly not a multi-billion corporation. And given that Entergy has put us in this hard place, it’s up to them to pay our way out of it.”

(Dillon) According to Shadis, it’s not just one or two records that are in dispute. He said his group discovered last week that key documents they did receive include significant omissions or had been altered from the original.

(Shadis) “We were given a very, very partial picture of what the technical issues were and how they were being resolved by Vermont Yankee. Our feeling on that is that we need to go back to square one.”

(Dillon) Shadis also reiterated his request for a complete top to bottom independent safety review of the Yankee plant. He’s concerned that squeezing more power out of the older reactor could compromise safety. He also wants Entergy to apologize for its failure to release the records.

Entergy Vice President Jay Thayer did apologize earlier this week to the Public Service Board. He sent a letter that expressed his quote “sincere regret” unquote and promised an in-house review on the issue.

And on Wednesday, Entergy spokesman Rob Williams again said the company was sorry. Williams said the company will file a formal response to the New England Coalition on Monday.

(Williams) “But in the meantime, we’ve assured the board that we recognize the importance that the process be fair and open and we understand our obligations to provide information.”

(Dillon) The Yankee Entergy spokesman said the company will recommend a “reasonable amount of time” for the opponents to review the additional records.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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