NRC says Vermont Yankee doesn't need increased oversight


BRATTLEBORO -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday denied a request from the state that it increase its oversight of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

In mid-August, Elizabeth Miller, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service asked the NRC to increase its reviews of Yankee following a number of operational incidents at the power plant.

"My concern is that such incidents, while perhaps unremarkable in isolation, together may raise questions regarding the training and oversight exercised by the operator of the plant," Miller wrote in a letter to the NRC.

The NRC met with Miller and members of her staff during a meeting on Aug. 28, a meeting that DPS Deputy Commissioner Sarah Hofmann described as "very amicable."

"We had the opportunity to question them," said Hofmann.

During the meeting, the NRC explained how its Reactor Oversight Process is used to inspect and assess the safety performance of operating nuclear reactors and the NRC's process for determining whether increased oversight is necessary.

During recent scheduled reviews of the plant, the NRC did not find any serious issues that needed to be addressed, stated the letter. However, human performance issues that have been observed in the past are being addressed by both Yankee and the NRC.

In October of this year, the NRC will conduct a Problem Identification and Resolution inspection focused on corrective actions to prevent human errors when taking equipment out of service, such as responses to a loss of shutdown cooling in October 2011 and the trip of an emergency diesel generator fuel rack in November 2011.

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Hofmann said while the state didn't get what it was asking for, it is pleased that the state nuclear engineer has been invited to observe the upcoming inspection, calling it "A real positive."

However, she said, the NRC's response to the state's request for increased oversight was somewhat expected.

"Under the rubric of how they look at these things, you have to meet their standards to get to a higher level of scrutiny," said Hofmann. "We understand we didn't meet their criteria in the reactor oversight process, but we feel they are being responsive by doing this inspection in October."

The state is going to continue to watch its issues of concern and ask questions and send letters if necessary, she said.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, said the Problem Identification and Resolution inspection is done on a periodic basis.

"One of the vehicles we use to evaluate human performance issues is the PR&I, where we verify the issues are getting identified and properly placed in a corrective action program," he said.

Vermont Yankee had been under increased oversight after a leak of tritiated water was discovered at the plant in January 2010. That was lifted after the source of the leak was identified and procedures were put in place to prevent similar problems from occurring again.

Bob Audette can be reached at, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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