DPS: Yankee statements on piping are ‘flawed and indefensible'

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BRATTLEBORO -- In a letter to the Vermont Public Service Board, the Department of Public Service has alleged that Entergy is still not being totally forthcoming about the extent of underground and buried piping at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

A filing submitted by Entergy on Jan. 24 has not been "sufficiently responsive" to clear up "inaccurate representations" made last year to the DPS, the PSB, Nuclear Safety Associates, which conducted a reliability assessment of the plant, and the Public Oversight Panel, which was tasked with reviewing NSA's report, wrote Sarah Hofmann, DPS' director of public advocacy in the letter, which was co-signed by John Cotter, DPS' special counsel.

The Entergy filing "is based on a flawed and indefensible reading of (Act 189) and appears to be part of an effort on the part of (Entergy) to minimize the significance of the original inaccurate disclosures ..." she wrote.

The reliability assessment was mandated by Act 189, which was approved by the Vermont State Legislature.

After learning about the "inaccurate representations" made last year, the DPS demanded that Entergy supply details about all underground pipes and systems at the plant.

The problem with Entergy's response to the demand, wrote Hofmann and Cotter, is that it relied on Entergy's definition of underground pipes -- only those that are "in direct contact with soil or concrete."

"The effect of this approach is to exclude a number of pipes from review that are actively carrying radionuclides, that are located outside of buildings, and that are below grade," they wrote.

Examples of such pipes include those that are in pipe vaults or chases or in a pipe-in-pipe configuration.

Under Entergy's definition, neither a pipe found last week with a hole in it, nor the pipes in the off gas pipe tunnel are considered underground piping because they are not buried "even though the pipes and associated equipment are below ground," wrote Hofmann and Cotter.

"Entergy apparently believes that these excluded configurations do not constitute a risk for contamination of soil or groundwater because they ‘are protected from direct contact underground,'" wrote Hofmann and Cotter.

It seems Entergy believes these are not subject to Act 189 because there is no direct pathway for soil or groundwater contamination, they wrote, which is "obviously belied by the current soil and groundwater contamination that ... finds its source in these excluded facilities."

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, told the Reformer that Entergy's response to the DPS' request is just another in a long line of falsehoods presented to the state.

"I have concluded that Entergy Louisiana is deliberately misleading Vermonters," he said. "Every day the story gets worse for Vermonters who have no tolerance for deception. It's extremely troubling when the operator of an aging and leaking plant is unable to tell you the truth."

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A member of the Public Oversight Panel said that though he agrees with the DPS letter, it doesn't go far enough.

"Entergy has had repeated opportunities to correct the record and they have chosen not to," said Arnie Gundersen.

From July to December of 2009, he said, he had directed a number of statements to state agencies attesting to the fact that Entergy was not revealing the true extent of underground and buried pipes at the plant.

"I wasn't trying to attribute any malice on Entergy's part," said Gundersen. "I thought they just misunderstood."

But Entergy's actions over the past few months are nothing but "further obfuscation on its part," he said. "I don't believe they've come clean on this issue."

Yankee's director of communications, Larry Smith, said Entergy has received the letter and will be responding to it promptly.

He had no comment on its contents at this time.

The DPS was also concerned about a statement made by Yankee's chief engineer Norm Rademacher in Entergy's Jan. 24 letter, in which he claimed the DPS requested only information defined under Entergy's narrow interpretation of underground piping, wrote Hofmann and Cotter.

But, they wrote, DPS counsel "specifically rejected" that definition in conversations with Yankee personnel prior to the filing of the Jan. 24 letter.

"The Department believes (Entergy's) filing is not sufficiently responsive to the Department's request," wrote Hofmann and Cotter.

Excluding pipes that are not in direct contact with soil or concrete "is simply untenable and the response to date is therefore incomplete," they wrote.

Because of the insufficient response, they wrote, the DPS is unable to present the Public Service Board with an independent verification of the accuracy of a list provided by Entergy detailing underground pipes and systems carrying radionuclides at Yankee.

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


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