Shumlin wants VY to renew extraction

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BRATTLEBORO -- Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin said he wants Entergy to restart well water extraction.

In a letter addressed to Michael Colomb, site vice president for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Shumlin said the decision to halt extraction was premature.

"It's not in Vermont's best interest to stop pumping water," he told the Reformer. "We have highly radioactive materials in the ground and it seems to me that it's only logical that the more we extract now, the better it will be for our health and safety."

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it has asked Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, for additional information on what testing and analysis it is doing to ensure tritium is not getting into the bedrock aquifer below the site.

"We are continuing to closely monitor Entergy's activities with respect to groundwater contamination," Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC wrote in an e-mail. "We have a call scheduled with plant officials for Thursday to discuss what the company is doing to better understand the latest well sampling data."

In a May inspection report, NRC staff noted that groundwater contamination of tritium at the site emanated from the AGO piping tunnel and extended in an easterly direction, 400 feet from the Connecticut River, Sheehan wrote.

"The plume followed the groundwater flow gradient and spread out to a shoreline frontage of approximately 300 feet wide," he wrote. "The plume was approximately 5-to-9 feet thick in the overburden material, which was within 30 feet of the ground surface and overlay the bedrock aquifer."

He added, "As such, it would not be surprising to see elevated levels of tritium there, as the plume makes its way toward the river."

On Nov. 18, Entergy had tentatively halted further extraction of contaminated ground water from its monitoring wells.

Yankee technicians removed 309,000 gallons of ground water from beneath the plant, 9,000 of which was cleaned and returned to the plant's reactor system, Larry Smith, a spokesman for Vermont Yankee said.

The remaining 300,000 gallons is being loaded into tanker trucks for disposal in Tennessee, he said. The last shipment is expected to be transported from the plant later this month.

Shumlin said the 300,000 gallons was "arbitrarily picked by Entergy" and doesn't solve the problem.

The ground water was contaminated by a leak of tritiated water that was discovered earlier this year.

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William Irwin, radiological health chief for the Vermont Department of Health, said the 300,000 gallons removed was roughly 10 percent of what was leaked into the ground and the extraction was purely voluntary.

At the time ground water extraction was stopped, some of the wells were still testing at more than 400,000 picocuries per liter, Irwin said.

He added that no one is drinking the water and, "calculations done by the Vermont Department of Health and Entergy show there is no detectable tritium in the Connecticut River."

Shumlin said the risk is still too great and is calling for the restart of the pumps and that Vermont Yankee dig four additional pumps.

"It seems clear to me that the tritium is moving down, not out," he said. "Therefore continuing to pump out the water is logical. The more we can extract the more we'll mitigate this challenge."

Entergy has received Shumlin's letter and is reviewing it with its technical staff, Smith said.

"We take seriously and share Gov.-Elect Shumlin's commitment to protecting public health and safety and to preserving the natural environment," Smith told the Reformer during a tour of the plant on Tuesday. "We're monitoring, testing and continuing with our remediation effort, overseen by NRC, Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Department of Public Service. They all show no threat to public health and safety or to any drinking wells."

Smith added that technicians are "assessing data collected by existing and new sentinel wells and will take all measures necessary."

In his letter to Colomb, Shumlin wrote that he's been informed that since tritium was detected at a depth of 220 feet in the Construction Office Building well, a former drinking water well that was shutdown in February, that Entergy hadn't taken samples from the bedrock since October.

"The COB well is the only source of data about what is happening in the aquifer under the site, so I also respectfully request that additional samples be taken regularly to allow the State of Vermont and Entergy to ascertain if one of Vermont's essential aquifers has been or is being contaminated by tritiated water from this newest expansion of the tritium plume."

Shumlin also requested that fish in the Connecticut River and on-site vegetation be tested for tritium, strontium and cesium.

"None of these requests should take any extensive effort and I would anticipate that recommended actions could be completed by the end of the week," he wrote.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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