State seeks former drinking water well test results

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BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Departments of Public Service, Health and Environmental Conservation have asked for the test results from a former drinking-water well at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and members say the results aren’t coming quickly enough.

In a letter addressed to Michael Colomb, site vice president of Vermont Yankee, sent from Harry Chen, Commissioner of the Department of Health, Elizabeth Miller, Commissioner of the Department of Public Services, and Justin Johnson Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Entergy, which owns and operates the nuclear power plant in Vernon, has until March, 28 to provide test results.

"We consider analysis of this well extremely valuable due to its depth and location in close proximity to the Advanced Off-Gas building, a source of tritium contaminated groundwater," the letter states.

Verbal and written requests to resume testing of the COB well have been made since February last year, when the former drinking-water well was taken out of service.

"Despite the numerous state regulator requests to obtain samples from the COB well, (Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee) has yet to do so," the letter states. "We would appreciate a prompt and complete written explanation as to why ENVY has failed to obtain samples from the COB well to date."

Larry Smith, manager of communications for Vermont Yankee, said testing had not been done.

"We have not done testing on the construction office build well as yet," Smith wrote in a e-mail to the Reformer. "Entergy is evaluating appropriate next steps and we are communicating with the state on that topic."

According to the letter, however, members of the departments disagree.

"ENVY had indicated that it would sample the well in February 2011, but operations ceased before a sample was obtained," the letter states.

There were concerns that sampling the well could introduce even more tritium contamination in the COB well.

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According to the letter, samples obtained from the COB well could help verify whether deeper sources of water, where drinking water is drawn from, have been affected.

"If we are not in receipt of these documents by (March 28) we will take appropriate enforcement action," the letter states.

On Monday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a new license for Vermont Yankee to operate from 2012 to 2032.

The issuance was temporarily put on hold following the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the safety systems of a set of nuclear reactors in Fukushima on March 11.

Gov. Peter Shumlin stated he found it "puzzling" that the NRC issued the license during the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan.

"Fortunately, Vermont has taken steps to close down the aging Yankee plant, and I have urged other states with older nuclear facilities to follow our example and take control of the lifespan of their plants," he stated.

The issuance of the renewed operating license is the culmination of an NRC review process, that began with Entergy’s submission of the application for a 20-year license extension on Jan. 27, 2006.

"The Yankee license renewal application has had more than five years of review, a safety evaluation, an environmental assessment and a hearing that lasted for several years," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC. "This application has received as much scrutiny as any license renewal proposal we have considered to date."

In addition to the NRC extension, Entergy must also receive a certificate of public good from the state of Vermont, something, Shumlin has repeatedly said the state will not grant to Entergy. Last year the state Senate voted 26-4 against the continued operation of the plant.

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


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