Thursday February 25, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont Yankee Site Vice President Michael Colomb and five other managerial employees were reprimanded Wednesday for "failure to maintain an organization that adhered to the highest standards of conduct in all actions and communications," according to a press release from Larry Smith, Yankee's director of communications.

Entergy, which owns and operates the nuclear power plant in Vernon, also placed five senior employees on leave, including John Dreyfuss, the plant's director of nuclear safety assurance and Jay Thayer, its vice president for operations.

The plant's manager of licensing, its technical specialist and senior project manager were three of the five placed on leave.

A spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast said Entergy had no plans to release all the names of the people put on administrative leave or disciplined.

"The actions speak for themselves," said Jim Steets, manager of external communications. "As we said from the outset, we take providing conflicting information very seriously and took actions to demonstrate that. The outcome is clearly unfortunate for some but the measures were appropriate."

A law firm commissioned by Entergy to conduct an independent review of statements made to the Vermont Public Service Board last year found the 11 employees did not attempt to deliberately mislead the PSB, Nuclear Safety Associates, which was tasked with conducting a comprehensive audit of the plant for the state, and the Public Oversight Panel, which reviewed NSA's audit.

However, Morgan Lewis and Bockius LLP, did find that Entergy employees' "failure to specify the context of their communication led to misunderstandings and, taken out of that context, the responses were incomplete and misleading,"

In a statement from Entergy, Colomb said he was disappointed in how the contradictory or misleading information was given to the state and he, as the lead Entergy official at Vermont Yankee, took responsibility for what happened.

"While there was no intentional wrongdoing, it is not consistent with our expectations at Vermont Yankee or in the nuclear industry, nor is it consistent with our values at Entergy," stated Colomb.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the NRC is planning to issue a demand for information to determine if any regulatory actions are necessary concerning what Yankee's representatives told the state of Vermont last year.

"This step is being taken in response to Entergy's investigation of their interactions with the State of Vermont," stated Jaczko, in a press release.

Once Entergy has responded, stated Jaczko, the NRC will assess and independently verify the information provided to ascertain the implications on NRC-regulated safety activities and the impact on safety culture at the site.

It will then decide whether it needs to take any further action. The NRC will determine whether it needs to take any further action.

NRC inspectors will soon be visiting Yankee to double check information given to to the NRC as part of Entergy's license renewal application, stated Jaczko.

"I will see to it that the NRC takes every measure necessary to independently assure that the health and safety of the public and the environment is protected at Vermont Yankee," he stated.

The disciplinary steps have financial consequences for the employees, wrote Smith.

The communications in question were made by Entergy employees about the extent of buried and underground piping at the plant carrying radioactive materials.

Following the discovery of tritium contamination of groundwater at the plant, the state learned that witnesses before the PSB did not supply all the information requested by NSA and did not answer all questions presented to them in a totally forthcoming manner.

"The Entergy responses were limited to only pipes that touch soil (not those encased in concrete), that carry liquid (not gaseous matter) and that are part of whole systems as defined by law," stated Smith in the press release.

The report was presented to Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell on Wednesday.

Sorrell said he had no comment on the report, which has not been made available to the public.

A nuclear engineer who assisted in start-up operations at Yankee in 1972 said the statements made before the PSB hurt Yankee's case for continued operation.

"The people involved tried to thread the needle on a technical point," said Howard Shaffer. "In doing this they have continued to fail to understand the public political arena and their responsibility as a corporate citizen and licensee of the federal and state governments."

Though Shaffer continues to support the relicensing of Yankee, he said it's important for Entergy representatives to speak in ways everyone can understand and not in technical terms.

Those opposed to Yankee's relicensing said the report was nothing but a whitewashing.

"ENVY's attorneys had a choice to make," said Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace. "They could argue that their clients were either incompetent or corrupt. It seems they chose the former. Which is all the more reason to shut down Vermont Yankee."

"This is what we lawyers call a ‘CYA' memo," said Patrick Parenteau, the director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Vermont Law School.

Parenteau said Morgan Lewis and Bockius is not a disinterested party.

"It is an industry law firm that does work for Entergy," he said.

These questions need answers which include why it took so long for the company to come forward and admit it had made a material error under oath on the record and why it took the discovery of the leak for truth to come out, said Parenteau.

"The AG should not accept this self-serving explanation and should press forward vigorously with the criminal investigation," he said.

"So should the U.S. Attorney if there were similar false statements made to federal authorities at the NRC or any other federal agency."

A member of the Public Oversight Panel said the actions taken by Entergy indicate more than is mentioned in the press release.

"ENVY furloughed six employees and reprimanded another five," said Arnie Gundersen. "Clearly that indicates significant ethical lapses and not just mistakes."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.