MONTPELIER -- A top Vermont utility regulator is renewing her push for stepped-up scrutiny by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after a series of problems at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
But the NRC is continuing to respond coolly to the entreaties by Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service.
Miller wrote to the NRC this week to ask whether it was time for the federal agency to step up inspections at the Vernon reactor, given the recent string of minor problems at the plant.
She had written a similar letter in March, and she said incidents since then reinforce her view that the NRC should take a second look at whether a string of minor and, in the NRC's view, unrelated incidents had a common element -- human error.
"My concern is that such incidents, while perhaps unremarkable in isolation, together may raise questions regarding the training and oversight exercised by the operator of the plant," Miller wrote in an Aug 14 letter to William Dean, Northeast regional administrator for the NRC.
Dean wrote in response to Miller's March letter that none of the incidents she had cited then had risen above a "green" level, denoting the agency's lowest ranking of safety concern, and that, taken together, they did not demonstrate a common thread of problems at the plant.
Miller said in her latest letter that the incidents had continued to pile up since March, and that she wanted to
She cited two "green" rated safety problems reported March 21, failure of a pump due to "low oil and inadequate corrective actions," and another component failure due to "age and inadequate corrective actions." On July 26, two more issues were reported that rated a "green" finding by the NRC: one maintenance procedure done with a faulty tool and another done with an inadequate risk analysis ahead of time.
In addition, Miller listed four other incidents that the NRC did not classify as raising safety concerns.
In one of them, a misaligned valve in the pool where the plant stores highly radioactive spent fuel waste allowed 2,700 gallons of water to drain out of the pool. Another involved epoxy applied to a condenser to keep it from leaking; that interfered with the condenser's operation and forced the plant to reduce its power output.
Miller said Friday her latest letter had not drawn any formal response, but that the NRC had told her it hoped to send Dean from his office in King of Prussia, Pa., to Vermont to meet with her and review her concerns.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said agency officials had discussed the concerns raised about Vermont Yankee recently and had concluded that the series of incidents still did not meet the threshold for stepped-up inspections.
"The reality is that they fall into discrete areas but none of these specific rankings cross that threshold that leads to increased NRC oversight," Sheehan said.