Friday May 21, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Ground Water Monitoring Inspection Report is nothing but "varnish," said a critic of Entergy's management of its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

"NRC takes a lot of words to say that neither they nor Entergy has a clue how vulnerable any aquifer that may lie below or next to the VY site may be to pollution from reactor water leaks," said Ray Shadis, technical consultant for the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution. "The report amounts to paraphrasing and repeating what Entergy told them."

Sandy Levine, senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation, agreed with Shadis that the NRC conducted a very limited review.

"This mostly reports on what Entergy said it did," she said. "The public deserves a full and complete inspection. This falls far short of that."

And Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace, said the NRC is not enforcing its own regulations.

"The NRC seemingly refuses to recognize the fact that its licensees do not have the authority to contaminate groundwater with their radioactive wastes," he said. "The NRC continues to focus on the amount of radiation released into groundwater rather than the illegality of the release."

Riccio urged the NRC to enforce and develop new regulations rather than relying on an industry initiative.

Shadis echoed Riccio's contention that Yankee has no authorization to have unmonitored, unmeasured and uncontrolled releases of radionuclides into the environment.

But Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC, said no violations of NRC requirements or findings of significance were identified.

"The NRC staff found that Entergy complied with all applicable regulatory requirements and standards pertaining to radiological effluent monitoring, dose assessment and radiological evaluation," he said.

Just the same, said Sheehan, "The presence of radioactive material in the soil and in groundwater at Vermont Yankee is unacceptable and we have taken, and will continue to take, action to ensure that Entergy promptly addresses these issues."

In addition, he said, the NRC has formed a task force to study ways to prevent future leakage and groundwater contamination at U.S. nuclear power plants.

"The recommendations from that task force are expected to be released sometime in June," said Sheehan.

Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear safety advocate who has been reviewing the reliability of the power plant, said an industry groundwater initiative is too weak to detect tritium leaks quickly. It needs to require more wells than the three that were installed at Yankee in 2007, he said.

"Yankee checked the three wells once every three months for tritium, and then waited two months to analyze the samples," said Gundersen. "Because of this, the pipe was leaking for two years before they found it," he said.

Since the leak was discovered, Yankee has drilled another 19 wells.

Gundersen cited a letter from David Ahlfeld, a civil and environmental engineer at UMass Amherst, to the Vermont Legislature when making his claim that tritiated water has been leaking into the environment for up to two years.

"Given the apparent geologic conditions beneath the VY site ... it is highly likely that contaminants would require many months to travel the several hundred feet from the source to the current observed location," wrote Ahlfeld.

Shadis also urged the NRC to explain more in depth what are the enhancements to the plant's groundwater monitoring plan that Yankee failed to implement prior to the leak.

"Hopefully they include comprehensive inspection and replacement of potentially rotten pipes," he said.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.