NRC approves Yankee reduction in emergency personnel

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BRATTLEBORO >> The Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorized a reduction in emergency staffing at the now-shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

"The staffing changes are consistent with those of other permanently shutdown U.S. nuclear power plants," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC.

In the approval order, issued Feb. 4, the NRC gave Vermont Yankee the go-ahead to cut emergency staffing from 13 to five.

While the reactor was operating, site emergency plan personnel included a shift manager, a control room supervisor, two control room operators, six auxiliary operators, one radiation protection technician, one chemistry technician and one shift technical advisor.

Now that all the fuel has been removed from the reactor core and placed in the plant's spent fuel pool, the NRC will allow Yankee to reduce site emergency plan staffing to one shift manager, on certified fuel handler, one radiation protection technician and three non-certified operators.

Vermont Yankee is asking to eliminate 26 other positions from its emergency response team, including members of its Technical Support Center, Operations Support Center, Emergency Operations Facility and Joint Information Center.

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According to the approval notice, Entergy, which owns and operates the power plant, analyzed the following areas in preparation for its staff-reduction request: design basis security threat; a fuel handling accident; the potential of an aircraft threat; a fire requiring evacuation of the control room; and the ramifications of a release of radioactive materials.

"The spectrum of credible accidents and operational events for a permanently shutdown and defueled reactor, and the number and complexity of activities required for the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel is reduced, as compared to an operating plant,"stated the NRC in the letter. "The primary events of concern in the immediate post-shutdown and defueled condition will be a fuel handling accident and a loss of (spent fuel pool) cooling and/or water inventory."

Based on the review of Entergy's analysis, NRC staff concluded "that the proposed level of the on-shift staffing continues to meet the planning standards of (federal regulations) commensurate with the reduced spectrum of credible accidents in the permanently defueled condition, and that the licensee retains the ability to promptly implement the (spent fuel pool) mitigation actions."

Entergy has also asked the NRC to reduce its responsibility for off-site emergency planning. As with other shut-down power plants. Entergy would like to shrink its footprint of responsibility from the 10-mile emergency planning zone around the plant to the actual physical fenceline.

The license amendment request involving the Vermont Yankee Emergency Planning Zone and other emergency planning changes is still in the review process," said Sheehan. "Entergy has requested approval by December 2015. However, even if it is approved, it cannot be implemented until April 15, 2016, which would be 15.4 months after the reactor's shutdown. That is because that is the point at which there would be sufficient radioactive decay of the newly unloaded fuel to allow the changes."

Robert Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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