Critic: NRC inspectors are 'too cozy' with Entergy
BRATTLEBORO -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed the public, said a pair of anti-nuclear activists during a teleconference with the NRC's petition review board (PRB) Wednesday morning.
The review board heard arguments from Thomas Saporito, of endangeredplanetearth.blogspot.com, and Ray Shadis, of the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, who have been contending that Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon should be shut down until a number of maintenance issues are resolved, including the remediation of tritium-contaminated groundwater.
Saporito said the NRC's resident inspectors at Vermont Yankee are "too cozy" with plant personnel and because of that, violations and unsafe conditions are not being detected in a timely manner.
He asked that the NRC's Office of the Inspector General conduct an audit of the resident inspectors' activities.
"The NRC's resident inspectors are not doing their jobs to an effective level," said Saporito, while Entergy has been violating numerous safety margins.
The NRC also failed to tell state agencies that contrary to what Yankee representatives were saying during hearings in Montpelier, the power plant has a number of underground piping systems that carry radionuclides, he said.
The OIG should conduct an additional investigation to determine if the NRC was negligent in not notifying Vermont, said Saporito.
He pointed to a number of issues that could have been prevented if the NRC had been doing its job. They include:
-- Not conducting an adequate risk assessment for maintenance activities that affected the availability of the low pressure coolant injection subsystem;
-- The failure of Entergy, which owns and operates Vermont Yankee, to initiate corrective actions related to the plant's cooling towers;
-- Entergy's failure to take timely and appropriate corrective actions to address a repeat functional failure of the reactor's high pressure coolant injection system, and;
-- Entergy's failure to initiate a condition report related to water accumulating in the turbine building supply fan housing plenum area, which led to the inoperability for four hours of one the plant's emergency diesel generators; and its failure to perform an engineering analysis of scaffolding installed in the cooling tower meant to shore up safety-related pipe supports.
In its 2009 fourth quarter plant inspection findings, the NRC stated all of the failures were of very low safety significance and that Entergy had taken or was in the process of taking actions to address all those issues.
Saporito contended that all of Entergy's maintenance activities related to those issues were the result of a "systemic and pervasive" failure by the licensee to properly identify and resolve the deficiencies and were contrary to NRC regulations demanding timely resolution.
Because of that, it was a failure on the part of the NRC to protect the health and safety of the general public and the environment, he said.
Shadis told the review board that the coalition had identified several examples where it believed there was not enough follow through on maintenance issues and where the reactor oversight process had "apparently failed to track maintenance and management issues from one event to the next."
The NRC should take time to review all documents related to accidents and equipment and maintenance failures at Yankee since Entergy bought the plant in 2002, said Shadis.
Then the NRC should ask itself if it has the appropriate "questioning attitude" and ability to posit possible problems to conduct its oversight of nuclear power plants, he said.
Shadis also questioned if enough work has been done to rule out the plant's condensate storage tank as a source of the leak of tritiated water.
"Everything we saw and heard from the company gave us no confidence that the leaks that have been found represent all the leaks," he said.
Saporito said because the licensee had lied under oath to the state the NRC had "no reasonable assurance" Entergy was supplying it with correct information related to the leak of tritiated water.
"The NRC can't be sure the tritium hasn't entered the environment at some point not captured by the wells," he said.
Shadis did admit that the levels of tritium detected in the groundwater do not exceed the NRC's "as low as reasonable achievable" radiation standards or the Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water limits for tritium.
"The groundwater however certainly exceeded the EPA maximum concentration limits by a factor of 100 or more," he said.
The pair also contended that Entergy doesn't fully understand the power plant's design basis and that Yankee's buried tanks and underground inspection program is inadequate.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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