BRATTLEBORO -- In its report to the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee, submitted on July 26 and released to the public on Aug. 12, Fairewinds Associates, which is operated by Arnie and Maggie Gundersen, wrote that state agencies conspired to "belittle the accurate analysis of Fairewinds Associates, Inc. rather than investigate the existence of underground pipes at (Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant)."
Fairewinds Associates was commissioned to perform a number of assessments of Yankee for the JFC.
Arnie Gundersen was a member of the Public Oversight Panel that reviewed a reliability assessment of Yankee commissioned by the state. The assessment was meant to inform the state on whether the power plant should gain approval to continue its operation past 2012, its license expiration date. Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee, has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend its license. The NRC has yet to issue its decision, but the state Legislature voted earlier this year against Yankee's continued operation.
In January, the state learned tritiated water was leaking into groundwater under the power plant. The leak was discovered to be coming from a pipe tunnel in the plant's off gas system and was fixed in February. However, the discovery of the leak revealed that some testimony on the nature of underground and buried pipes at Yankee had not been accurately detailed to the state last year. Entergy is in the process
According to Fairewinds' most recent report, both the Department of Health and the Department of Public Service "were actively communicating with Entergy in an attempt to discredit" the efforts of Fairewinds Associates to analyze the status of the plant.
"The comments of Mr. Gundersen are hyperbole and, in my opinion, bordering on irresponsibility," stated an e-mail between DOH and Entergy acquired by Fairewinds.
"Such inappropriate communication between the agency charged with regulating radiation releases and the industry it purports to be regulating brings into question the credibility of the whole nuclear regulatory process in the state of Vermont," wrote the Gundersens.
But in response to a number of questions submitted by the Reformer, the DPS maintained that both it and the DOH did not inappropriately communicate with Entergy in an attempt to discredit Fairewinds.
Entergy referred questions on inappropriate communications to the DPS.
The Gundersens also contended that Entergy restricted access to information that was necessary for Fairewinds to conduct a complete analysis of technical issues and power reductions that might impact the plant's reliability.
Because of that, "it has become increasingly difficult to ascertain operational issues until well after they have transpired," they wrote.
Entergy stated that it did not restrict Fairewinds' access to technical information.
"We just met on this topic two weeks ago and provided information," it stated in response to questions submitted by the Reformer.
The Gundersens also wrote that only four of the 81 action items identified in the Public Oversight Panel's report on the reliability of the power plant have been satisfactorily completed, though it is possible that another 55 items may be certified as completed in 2010.
But that doesn't mean they will be completed, they noted, only that the process to rectify them is satisfactory to the Department of Public Service and is underway.
Another 19 items may be approved in 2011, but that leaves the remaining three items, the most expensive, which will not be resolved until after 2012, including replacement of the plant's condenser, which has now been pushed off from 2014 to 2016.
The DPS said that progress on the action items "did not proceed pursuant to the original schedule because of the resources needed to accomplish the continuing work on the Reliability Assessment of the Advance Off Gas (AOG) system and the Buried Tank and Pipe Inspection Program, especially given the contemporaneous efforts devoted to the tritium leak investigation and management of the outage. However, significant progress to address the majority of the recommendations with Entergy is underway and is on schedule."
But DPS disagreed with the Gundersens on the numbers of items addressed by Entergy.
As of Aug. 11, Entergy had closed out 35 corrective actions, had eight items with closure pending and 38 requiring supplemental monitoring activities.
Entergy itself doesn't believe it has been slow in addressing the action items.
The Gundersens also maintained that according to Department of Health data, cesium-137, which was identified in soil at the location of the leak of tritiated water, actually increases in concentration of samples taken further away the source.
But, wrote Bill Irwin, DOH's Chief of Radiological Health, cesium has only been detected in the soil and those concentrations decrease with distance from the leak source. However, he did say that two of the 16 samples taken in February were higher than samples taken at a location closer to the source.
"Sampling soil in an excavation subject to numerous disturbances by people and equipment is, by its nature, somewhat imprecise," said Irwin. "Still, the data supports the finding that cesium-137 concentrations tend to decrease with distance as measurements are taken further from the leakage source."
The Gundersens were also concerned that there might be a significant amount of cesium and other radioactive materials migrating across the site that have yet to be discovered.
"The Health Department has no evidence that any radioactive materials other than tritium have migrated through soils and away from the immediate vicinity of the point of origin of the leaks," said Irwin.
And none of the radioactive metals detected during the investigation move like water, he said.
"There are significant forces -- physical, chemical and mechanical -- that act against the migration of these metals in soil beneath the surface," said Irwin.
In addition, he said, most of the metals associated with the leaks were removed from the ground during the excavation of the area around the off gas Building.
But Irwin did not disagree with the Gundersens' contention that the leak must have been ongoing for at least two years.
"The groundwater has been moving at a rate of about one to three feet per day," said Irwin. "It likely took hundreds of days to move from the leak source (to) where it was first detected in November 2009."
Entergy was less specific in its response.
"It is difficult to answer that question," it wrote. "But we know that the leakage existed sometime before November 2009."
Several of the questions submitted to Entergy went unanswered because they are issues being litigated in a docket before the Vermont Public Service Board.
Those questions included whether cesium and strontium are moving with the contaminated water, whether the plume has been contained, whether cesium levels have tested higher further away from the leak, whether undetected cesium is migrating across the site and whether it will wait for decommissioning to continue soil remediation.
"This report is the work of Arnie Gundersen and his interpretation of the supplemental report," said Larry Smith, director of communications for Yankee. "The bottom line in that July 20th report by the Public Oversight Panel, of which Arnie is a member, essentially reaffirms the central finding of the original 2009 report that with caveats, Vermont Yankee can be operated reliably beyond 2012."
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.