BRATTLEBORO — Better communication could result from groundwater-intrusion issues at the shutdown nuclear plant Vermont Yankee in Vernon.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Trey Martin said the state began conversations with plant owner Entergy immediately after the Feb. 18 publication of a VTDigger story, which featured photographs of portable swimming pools holding the water and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson saying the water contained "very low levels of tritium."
"There reflects a commitment on behalf of the company to be in dialogue with the state on a routine basis so that as things come up, we can address them right away," Martin said during a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel meeting at Brattleboro Union High School on Thursday,
The Vernon plant stopped operating in December 2014 and some groundwater was expected to come into the turbine building after shutdown. But state officials did not necessarily expect to find out about it the way they did.
Vermont Department of Health Radiological and Toxicological Sciences Chief Bill Irwin called the situation "a blessing in disguise" and said Entergy officials are now "entertaining a wide variety of questions" the state has on the decommissioning process.
"Initially, there was great disappointment that we had to learn this essentially through the press," Irwin said. "The end result, however, is that this has opened up a really important dialogue that should have existed before we had to have an instance like this."
Vermont Yankee Site Vice President Chris Wamser admitted his group "could have done a better job communicating," acknowledging that some people may have been caught off guard by the news.
That was especially true of Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, who stated "this outrageous scenario demonstrates the importance of having adequate resources on hand to fund clean-up efforts." Smith had previously raised concerns about Entergy using a decommissioning trust fund for paying off its property taxes.
State Nuclear Engineer Tony Leshinskie said the state is receiving weekly briefings from Entergy about water-management issues on site.
A team to develop a plan of action was formed and it includes industry experts and plant employees who are tasked with finding the best way to ship the "mildly contaminated" water off site while minimizing the amount of groundwater coming towards the turbine building, according to Joe Lynch, Entergy Vermont Yankee's government affairs manager. One idea involves drilling wells to contain the water before it gets near buildings.
"The water management is really a very important focus area for the plant right now and we've developed what we believe is a very comprehensive plan to, one, reduce the amount of groundwater that is coming into primarily our turbine building, and also a plan of what to do with this water once we've collected it in a safe, cost-effective and prudent way," said Lynch, adding that the quantity of the water entering the turbine building has been fluctuating at rates higher than expected and there is no health impact to plant employees. "The reason we're seeing these different today when we're shutdown than when we were operating is that when we're operating, the area that received this water was a very warm environment. A lot of evaporation was happening naturally. And we had water processing systems in service that addressed any of the water that came in through some sort of other mechanism."
The water is now being transported away via a company called EnergySolutions. The shipping began the week of Feb. 22, Lynch said.
"There are 5,000-gallon tankers that go off-site. To date, we've shipped about 30,000 gallons of groundwater-intrustion water down to EnergySolutions' facilities for processing," he said. "We'll try to ship a minimum of 10,000, maybe as many as 20,000 gallons, per week for a total of 80,000 gallons is what our initial plan is."
After undergoing a complex treatment process, the water is disposed at the Carter Valley Landfill in Tennessee. A presentation on managing waste water at Thursday's meeting was provided by EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker.
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