Entergy agrees to review of N.Y. plant


Thursday, March 20
BRATTLEBORO -- The owner of Vermont Yankee has agreed to conduct an independent safety evaluation of its Indian Point nuclear power station in the Hudson River Valley.

What effect this decision will have on discussions to conduct an independent safety assessment at Yankee in Vernon is unknown.

"Vermonters are deciding what to do about a safety assessment or evaluation of Vermont Yankee," said Jim Steets, the manager of Entergy Nuclear Communications. "Those are discussions we are participating in."

Entergy, the owner and operator of Yankee, has applied to the NRC for a license renewal, which would extend operation of the 35-year-old plant from 2012 to 2032. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has completed its environmental and safety assessments of the plant and concluded there are no significant reasons for denying the request. A decision is expected in November.

Before Entergy can continue operating the plant, it must also receive approval from both the state's Public Service Board and the Legislature. Recently, Entergy submitted its petition for a certificate of public good to the PSB, which will review the reasons Entergy has presented for Yankee's continued operation.

The Legislature has started its own review, called for in Act 160, which was written at the time Entergy bought the plant in 2002. Act 160 gives the Legislature broad powers to initiate reviews of the plant prior to making a decision on whether the plant should be allowed to continue operation.

Steets stressed that the inspection at Indian Point would be conducted by an independent group of nuclear power experts.

"It needs to done because the public will benefit from a look by somebody that is not us," he said. The review is intended to "provide public assurances about the operation and protection of New York's largest nuclear power facility," according to an Entergy press release announcing its decision.

While Indian Point and Vermont Yankee are two different cases, said Steets, any potential evaluation at Yankee might be similar to the one planned for Indian Point.

"There is value in having something like this if just to assure the public about safety," he said.

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Areas of review at Indian Point include safety requirements, regulatory compliance, the resolution of safety problems, operations, management and maintenance. The inspectors will also look at how secure the plant is from terrorist attacks, accident response and accident management capability and the interface with and support of offsite emergency management.

While the inspection is intended to be independent from Entergy, the company is funding the evaluation "because the company does not believe it should be the public's responsibility to pay for an ISE through taxpayer dollars," according to the press release.

The review will begin March 27.

"Although repeated and continuous NRC assessments have concluded Indian Point is safe, we hope this independent evaluation will be another step in building public confidence in Indian Point's safety and security, and serving as a vital role in New York's energy future," stated Michael Kansler, president and chief nuclear officer of Entergy Nuclear, in the press release. "We are taking the extra step of performing an independent safety evaluation to reassure the public that Indian Point is a safe and secure facility with acceptable plans in place to address an emergency."

"We don't have any objections to Entergy performing an safety review at Indian Point or any other plant," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "Power plant owners do independent reviews all the time."

Just the same, he said, "We're confident that the reactor oversight process can appropriately identify any problems at a plant."

The reactor oversight process is independent of the license renewal review, said Sheehan.

"The oversight process looks at ongoing operations of the plant," he said, and is conducted by resident inspectors and specialized teams that regularly visit Yankee. More than 6,000 staff hours were spent conducting those inspections in 2006, said Sheehan.

While routine inspections of Vermont Yankee have concluded the plant is operating within regulatory parameters, he said, "We recognize the state is interested in something that goes above and beyond (the reactor oversight process) and we are trying to be responsive to the state's needs. We haven't ruled out or made any kind of determination on what kind of review we would do."

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


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