NRC: Inaccurate info could lead to VY shutdown

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BRATTLEBORO -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission could modify, suspend or revoke Vermont Yankee's operating license if it determines that communications from recently suspended employees to the NRC over the past five years were incomplete or inaccurate.

Last week, several managers were put on administrative leave including John Dreyfuss, the director of nuclear safety assurance, Dave McElwee, senior liaison engineer, Dave Manai, manager of licensing, and Mike Netell, senior project manager for relicensing.

Jay Thayer, the vice president of operations, was placed on administrative leave last month.

The suspensions were in response to the revelation that Entergy representatives gave inaccurate testimony during Vermont Public Service Board hearings last year regarding the extent of buried and underground pipes at the site in Vernon.

In addition to the suspensions, six executives at Yankee were reprimanded.

The NRC is currently reviewing whether incomplete or inaccurate information was given to it in Entergy's license renewal application for Yankee, which it owns and operates.

Entergy has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the operating license of Yankee for another 20 years, from 2012 to 2032. Last week, the Vermont Senate voted in opposition to the continued operation of the power plant.

Vermont is the only state in the country that has the authority to take such an action.

The PSB is currently reviewing whether Entergy should receive a certificate of public good for Yankee's continued operation.

To date, stated NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan in an e-mail to the media, it has not identified any instances that Yankee employees provided inaccurate or incomplete information in the plant's relicensing application.

The NRC also wants to know if Entergy assessed the impact of the suspensions on the plant's "safety culture."

In addition, the NRC is concerned that Entergy has not provided it with information describing how the changes might affect Entergy's ability to implement NRC-regulated programs.

The reprimands and suspensions were a result of an independent internal investigation, which was turned over to Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell last week, who has refused to release the report to the public at this time.

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The NRC has yet to receive the investigation report, which it asked for to help in its evaluation of the effects of the reprimands and suspensions.

"Obviously we are going to comply with the request," said Larry Smith, Yankee's director of communications.

In addition to its demands of Entergy, the NRC plans to independently review and assess the results of the investigation to determine for itself if the personnel changes will have any impact on NRC-regulated activities.

A spokesman for the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, which was the only intervenor before the NRC during the extended power uprate hearings in 2006 and is now the only intervenor in Yankee's license renewal proceeding, said Entergy used "contrived data" to avoid litigating the condition of the cooling towers.

"Entergy submitted in support of its position that all was examined and well," stated Ray Shadis. "Less than a year and a half later, one of the cooling towers collapsed."

Shadis also believes the information supplied by Entergy in its renewal application failed to give accurate information regarding the full extent and condition of buried piping and the piping inspection program.

Shadis wrote that he will be watching to see if the NRC "remains as willfully gullible as they have been in the past."

"From my observations over 30 years of working with NRC ... when NRC's oversight derelictions are inescapably exposed, then they come down hard on the licensees," he wrote.

In a statement to the media, Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., stated, "Families on both sides of the river deserve to know Entergy's knowledge of the recent tritium leaks.

"Forcing these documents into the light of day is the only way to get that done," he stated.

In the interim, stated Hodes, "I still believe that the safest way forward is to cease operations at the plant until we can be assured of its safety."

Entergy has 30 days to respond to the demand.

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


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