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No halt in Vermont Yankee decommissioning

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VERNON — Decommissioning at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is continuing despite the coronavirus.

Scott State, chief executive officer for NorthStar Decommissioning, said in an email Thursday that decommissioning was progressing on schedule despite widespread economic upheaval as the country deals with COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus.

"NorthStar's decommissioning work at Vermont Yankee cannot be accomplished remotely," State said via an email.

"Work continues at Vermont Yankee and there have been no delays or other impacts to the project. My management team is closely monitoring the situation and will make operational adjustments to protect employee and community health as the evolving circumstances dictate."

State noted that workers always wore protective gear while working at the Vernon reactor site anyway, but that the company has adopted additional precautions as well and is monitoring its employees and contractors' health.

"NorthStar is committed to protecting the health of its employees and the communities where the company operates. Because our work routinely involves cleanup of contaminated sites, public health precautions are already part of our organizational culture," State said in an email.

"We recognize new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and are closely monitoring and implementing recommendations from the U.S. Center for Disease Controls and state public health officials to adapt operations throughout the company as needed, including decommissioning work at Vermont Yankee," he said.

State said there are approximately 100 people working at the Vermont Yankee site, but he noted they are spread out across the site, and have staggered shifts.

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"Much of the work they are performing already requires the use of personal protective equipment, including state of the art respirators, that significantly diminish transmission risks relative to other workplaces," he said.

He said the Vernon site, which is already heavily restricted, has now been closed to all visitors.

If an employee exhibits any COVID 19 symptoms, they will be excused from work until appropriate quarantine time periods have elapsed or testing confirms they are not carrying the virus. "Thanks to existing precautionary conditions inherent to the sensitive work being done coupled with heightened personal sanitary measures — expected of all Americans consistent with public health guidelines — the risk of COVID 19 transmission at the Vermont Yankee site is acceptably low at this time," he said.

He said there have been no cases of COVID 19 among the Vermont Yankee workforce or elsewhere in the NorthStar company.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the federal agency is deferring most travel and inspections conducted by the regionally-based inspectors. Sheehan said he is also working from his home.

"Preparations for some region-based inspections continue remotely as inspectors review documents and have remote discussions with plant personnel," Sheehan said.

"We are communicating regularly with nuclear plants to discuss current activities and future plans including plant staffing, medical screening, reductions in non-essential maintenance work, and other matters," he added.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 556-2147.


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