Critic takes issue with VY review

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BRATTLEBORO -- The 81 action items identified after a reliability assessment was conducted at Vermont Yankee in 2008 have been addressed, said a spokesman for the nuclear power plant in Vernon.

But a frequent critic of Entergy’s management of the plant, and a member of the oversight panel tasked by the state to review the reliability assessment, takes issue with the company’s view.

According to Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams, "as of last week, more than two years before the license renewal period is set to start, all 81 recommendations have been addressed by Vermont Yankee and have been reviewed by the Department of Public Service and their consultant Nuclear Safety Associates."

The assessment was conducted on behalf of the Vermont Legislature, which is reviewing whether Yankee should be allowed to continue operating after its license expires in 2012.

But nuclear industry inside turned safety advocate Arnie Gundersen said Entergy’s assessement of the assessment is wrong.

"The 81 items that were identified by NSA and the oversight panel have yet to be addressed," he said.

Yankee has in fact only developed plans to address the items, said Gundersen.

"These plans will now take years to implement and will continue to require constant supervision by the state to assure adherence," he said.

Entergy has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the operating license of Yankee for another 20 years, from 2012 to 2032. In addition to NRC approval, Entergy must also receive a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board and the OK from the Vermont Legislature.

The assessment was conducted to determine whether the plant can be counted on to run reliably from 2012 to 2032.

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After reviewing the reliability assessment, the oversight panel voted unanimously to recommend continued operation on the condition that a list of 39 reliability-enhancing recommendations were addressed. Those 39 items were broken down into 81 specific action items.

The action items included creating plans for upgrades to the plant’s condenser, adding a spare main transformer, assessing staffing levels, equipment reliability monitoring and procedure upgrades.

In January, Gundersen will be meeting with the NSA team and Uldis Vanags, the state’s nuclear engineer, to develop the ongoing inspection plans "to make sure ENVY does what it claims it will do," he said, adding the repairs to fix the aging condenser will take until 2016 to be completed.

There’s no reason why it should take six years to fix the condenser, said Gundersen.

"It’s not rocket science," he said. "Power plants do it all the time. It does however require that ENVY spend the cash on its asset."

In fact, the condenser at a similar boiling water reactor in Washington state will be replaced in two years.

It could take up to $100 million to repair the system, an investment Entergy is hesitant to make unless the plant receives the OK from the state to continue operating.

According to the reliability assessment, the condenser is near the end of its useful life and might not be able to operate reliably through 2012 without some remedial actions, said Gundersen.

The condenser, which consists of miles and miles of water-filled tubes, acts as a radiator to cool reactor steam that is used to power the plant’s turbine. In the last couple of years, the condenser has leaked river water into the reactor system. The water is filtered and treated to prevent contaminants from entering the reactor system.

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


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