Vermont Yankee resumes fuel move

Reformer file photoVermont Yankee went offline in December 2014 and all the fuel was removed from the nuclear reactor Jan. 12, 2015. The fuel is now being put into dry cask storage.

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VERNON — After a nearly two-month hiatus, crews have resumed storing Vermont Yankee's radioactive spent fuel in sealed casks.

The $143 million project came to an abrupt halt in early March after plant owner Entergy received word of a potential problem with similar casks at another nuclear site.

But there have been no problems discovered in Vernon, and Entergy is pushing ahead with the fuel storage effort. The company says it is several months ahead of its year-end deadline for finishing the project.

"If there are no further significant delays or work stoppages, it is anticipated that the campaign will be completed by the end of September 2018," said Joe Lynch, a senior government affairs manager for Entergy.

Entergy permanently removed all fuel from Vermont Yankee's reactor in January 2015, the month after power production ceased at the Vernon site.

But there's currently nowhere for the radioactive spent fuel to go due to the lack of a federal repository for such material. So Entergy has been working to get the fuel out of a cooling pool and into long-term cask storage.

The project is important for several reasons. Besides getting the fuel into a more-stable environment, the move also is a prerequisite for Entergy's proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to New York-based cleanup company NorthStar.

The end of the fuel move also will spur the next round of job reductions at the plant.

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The fuel project is tightly regulated and rigorously scheduled. But Entergy stopped loading casks on March 10 because crews at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California discovered a loose part - described as a bolt or a shim support - in casks at that site.

The same company, Florida-based Holtec International, makes casks for both San Onofre and Vermont Yankee. Lynch said the San Onofre casks "are of a similar design to those used at [Vermont Yankee]."

Entergy has said the company ordered "painstaking" inspections of Vermont Yankee's casks.

"Following detailed inspections and engineering analyses by Entergy and Holtec, we have confirmed that the issue discovered at the other nuclear facility has not been found at [Vermont Yankee]," Lynch said Monday.

A cask was transferred to a storage pad on Saturday - the first cask loaded since March. It is the 44th cask at Vermont Yankee, and there are 14 more to go before the project is finished.

Lynch said Entergy "remains committed to informing external constituents throughout the remainder of the loading process." Those constituents include regulatory entities as well as members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, he said.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees the fuel project. The NRC had an inspector in Vernon last week "to get an update on dry cask loading activities," spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

"Entergy at that point was working through some issues involving the loading of the cask," Sheehan said. "We also maintain ongoing communications with the site on loading work when we don't have an inspector present."