Gov't audits NRC, Yankee

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The U.S. Government Accountability Office is planning a review of the NRC's requirements for and oversight of buried pipes at nuclear power plants.

Yankee is being audited by the NRC to determine if its license renewal application completely and accurately represents the nature and extent of buried piping at the plant in Vernon.

While the GAO's review has not yet begun, the NRC was in Vernon the week of May 24 to conduct its audit. The NRC has 90 days to issue its report.

The NRC's visit to Yankee was scheduled, "In light of the recent developments related to tritium leaks found on the site and potential misinformation given to the state of Vermont by Entergy ..."

On Jan. 25, 2006, Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee, submitted a 20-year renewal application for the power plant's operating license.

The scope of the NRC's audit includes all the systems that contain buried, below grade, or limited access piping within the scope of license renewal.

The NRC will review system drawings and procedures, interview plant personnel and complete system walk-downs to verify that the information provided in the license renewal application is accurate.

The NRC will also review the license renewal application itself, request for information responses, previous audit question and answer database, system drawings, procedures and information provided to the State of Vermont.

When the leak of tritiated water was discovered, state regulators learned that Yankee executives had supplied inaccurate information about buried piping to the Public Service Board and Nuclear Safety Associates, which was tasked with conducting a reliability assessment of the power plant.

Entergy attributed the shortcoming to a "miscommunication."

The NRC's license renewal process for Yankee is now in its 5-4th month, the longest on record. The NRC has 2-1 more months to make its decision on whether the power plant should be allowed to operate until 2-032.

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The NRC's normal schedule calls for a relicensing application to be completely reviewed in 22 to 30 months. It has approved new licenses for 50 of the nation's 1-04 reactors, according to the NRC Web site.

The GAO is conducting its audit at the urging of Rep. Peter Welch, DVt., Rep. John Hall, DN. Y., Rep. Edward Markey, DMass., and Rep. John Adler, DN. J., who have expressed concern over the status of buried pipes at the nation's nuclear power plants.

In a letter dated Jan. 14, they requested an investigation into the integrity, safety, inspection, maintenance, regulations and enforcement issues surrounding buried piping.

The pipes include those that carry reactor cooling water and diesel fuel for emergency generators.

"Under current regulations, miles and miles of buried pipes within nuclear reactors have never been inspected and will likely never be inspected," stated Markey. "As it stands, the NRC requires - at most - a single, spot inspection of the buried piping systems no more than once every 10 years. This cannot possibly be sufficient to ensure the safety of both the public and the plant."

A spokesman for the GAO said it would not dis-cuss the audit until a final report is issued.

"Since the work is only now getting underway we don't have anything to discuss yet," said Chuck Young, the managing director of the GAO's office of public affairs. "Once the work is scoped out and the methodology determined, we can discuss those aspects of our work plan."

There is no indication as to when the audit will be completed and the report will be released.

According to a letter sent to the NRC, the GAO will examine monitoring inspection requirements, compliance enforcement, oversight of industry initiatives and any additional requirements that could help to improve the safety and integrity of buried pipes at both currently operating and future plants.

"We look forward to working with the GAO to provide it with full details on our oversight process for buried and underground piping," stated Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC. "At the same time, it's important to note that we have a task force examining possible improvements to our regulations on underground and buried piping."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2-311, ext. 273.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2-311, ext. 273.


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