More problems found in Vermont Yankee's cooling towers

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Officials said Thursday that additional degraded support beams were discovered in the nuclear plant's east cooling tower.

A total of five cracked or broken columns have been found since leaks were discovered Tuesday night, said Rob Williams, a spokesman for Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Nuclear.

Two of the five beams have already been replaced, he said. The leaks, which were attributed faulty packing in pipe joints, have been repacked, he said.

He and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have said the leaks are not considered key to plant safety.

The towers are used to cool Connecticut River water that is warmed as it is run through the plant's condenser. The water is cooled before being returned to the river, so that it does not raise the river temperature beyond state-imposed limits.

The plant was operating at about 84 percent of its capacity on Thursday, after dropping to 50 percent after the leaks were discovered.

The incident follows two other problems in the cooling towers: In August 2007, a six-foot-wide water pipe broke and the tower supporting it collapsed. In July 2008 weakening of supports and a pipe leak were blamed on inadequate repairs made after the first mishap. Two bracket supports were attached to the beams instead of three, officials said.

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