No new pollution at Vermont Yankee

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VERNON — A recent environmental assessment found no evidence of new or different non-radiological contamination at Vermont Yankee.

That's good news for Entergy, which is trying to sell the idled Vernon nuclear plant to a New York-based decommissioning company. But officials at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources aren't impressed. They say Entergy has not yet looked hard enough for contaminants like PCBs and oil that might be present at a plant that operated for 42 years before its 2014 shutdown.

Without a more complete investigation, "There is no way to know the scope and extent of non-radiological contamination at the Vermont Yankee site and the corrective actions that are necessary to protect public health and the environment and restore the site," said Jen Duggan, the agency's general counsel.

Administrators at Entergy and NorthStar Group Services, the proposed buyer of Vermont Yankee, contend they've got a pretty good handle on contamination at the 123-acre plant property.

There was an environmental assessment performed in 2001, prior to Entergy's purchase of the plant. And Entergy in 2014 released a 60-page site assessment intended as "a summary of the historical environmental and radiological condition of the site."

The latest assessment was performed at Entergy's behest by Bedford, N.H.-based Normandeau Associates Inc. The company was looking for nonradiological issues that might have come to light since the prior site studies.

Normandeau Associates says it found nothing of the sort.

The company's report includes a detailed accounting of Vermont Yankee's storage tanks, both above and below ground. Evaluators examined bulk storage containers; looked for staining and corrosion in some buildings; and cataloged the site's transformers, "most of which are documented to be PCB-free."

The report also discusses Vermont Yankee's wells, water discharges and septic tanks.

Entergy did not immediately comment on the report, but it likely comes as no surprise to the company or to NorthStar. In an interview last month, NorthStar CEO Scott State said he didn't anticipate any big disclosures in the latest environmental assessment given the site studies that already had been done.

NorthStar also has two full-time employees at Vermont Yankee and has retained a Massachusetts-based environmental consultant to evaluate the property as regards to state Agency of Natural Resources regulations.

"The level of documentation we have ... is consistent with or probably somewhat better than the documentation we get on other projects of this magnitude," State said last month.

Normandeau's new site assessment adds to that documentation. But the report also acknowledges its limitations: It is based on a review of records and databases; interviews; and a walk-through of the site in June.

As was the case with the 2014 Vermont Yankee report, the new assessment "does not include an inspection of subsurface conditions and does not include any testing or sampling," Normandeau administrators wrote.

A more thorough investigation, possibly including test digs, monitoring wells and soil or water sampling, "would be required to confirm if hazardous substances or petroleum products are present in the subsurface at the site," the report says.

For that reason, Entergy's new environmental report "does not address (the state's) concerns about the need for an adequate site characterization," Duggan said.

Duggan called for "a complete site investigation and characterization, including sampling of environmental media."

That's not a new battle line between Entergy and the state, which has jurisdiction over nonradiological contamination at Vermont Yankee.

At a meeting in Brattleboro earlier this year, Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke said there were "significant questions to be answered" about pollution at the plant. He requested a more detailed assessment of nonradiological contamination.

But Joe Lynch, Entergy's senior government affairs manager, said such work likely would occur concurrently with decommissioning — not prior to it.

"The agency has more questions. ... We perfectly understand that," Lynch said at the time. "It's a timing issue. It's not an issue of whether we're going to do it or not."

Mike Faher writes for VTDigger, The Brattleboro Reformer, and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.

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