(AP Photo/Vermont Yankee Corporation)
(AP Photo/Vermont Yankee Corporation)
Wednesday June 8, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- A contractor for Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant recently presented a map of the hydrogeological conditions underneath the facility in Vernon to Entergy, which owns and operates the plant.

Even though state agencies in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have seen the map during site visits to the power plant and on a secure web server, the public and environmental advocacy groups fighting for the closure of the plant probably won't get a chance to see it until the end of July or early August.

The conceptual site model, its technical name, was developed in response to a leak of tritiated water that was discovered at the plant in January 2010.

It will be used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this month in its review of Yankee's voluntary groundwater monitoring initiative, which was developed by the Nuclear Energy Institute in response to a number of tritiated water leaks at plants around the country.

Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have a memorandum of understanding with the NRC that it will share all data related to the inspection, however, said Bill Irwin, the chief of radiological health for the Vermont Department of Health, the model won't become public until the NRC has finalized its inspection report to insure all the issues have been explored and all the facts have been verified

According to the MOU, he said, any information related to the NRC's inspection can't be distributed or specifically described until the inspection is complete.

The agreement was meant to prevent people from using the information before a complete review is made, said Irwin.

Sarah Hofmann, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Service, affirmed Irwin's contention.

"Until the actual inspection report is out, that model is confidential," said Hofmann.

Sandy Levine, senior legal counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation, which is an intervener in the Vermont Public Service Board's investigation of the tritium leak, said she has not seen the model.

"I think it should be made publicly available," she said. "It's disappointing that Entergy and the states are not sharing the information they have about public resources."

Jared Margolis, legal counsel for the New England Coalition, which is also an intervener before the PSB, said he doesn't expect the model to be given to the PSB at all.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, he said, Entergy is claiming the state and the PSB have "zero jurisdiction" over the operation of the plant.

"They are taking a hard line and are going to ignore the Board and the state completely," he said.

Pat Parenteau, Senior Counsel to the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic and Professor of Law at the Vermont Law School, said any information about groundwater is not proprietary.

"It's certainly not privileged," he said.

Even though the NRC's review hasn't started yet, the state is well aware of all measures being taken to address the tritium contamination, said Irwin.

"I've had a fairly privileged position to actually attend several groundwater inspections and see a lot of this data," he said. "We feel very confident that whatever was presented in those reports is accurate. The review by other experts will likely not only confirm that but I expect we might learn some new perspectives that are going to be of benefit to us and the public."

The conceptual model was prepared by Entergy as part of its response to the groundwater contamination at the plant and in advance of the monitoring program inspection, said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC.

"The NRC agreed on the need for the model and pushed for its completion," he said. "The state was also very interested in seeing the results."

The NRC has 45 days to issue its report after the June inspection is completed, said Sheehan.

An initial map was prepared prior to the construction of the plant and then updated in 1991 for the Vermont Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority, but a new model was needed to help determine the flow of groundwater under the plant as well as the subsurface materials such as bedrock, sand and gravel.

The model details how groundwater flows at the site from higher elevations north, west and south, passing Vermont Yankee structures on its way to the lower elevation of the Connecticut River.

Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said when the report is released, it will help inform ANR's research into whether the tritium contamination has violated the public trust doctrine.

The doctrine holds that certain resources, including groundwater, are preserved for public us, and that the government is required to maintain them for the public's reasonable use.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.