Truck carrying empty nuclear waste cask crashes

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ANDOVER — An oversized flatbed truck carrying an empty nuclear waste cask headed to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant drove onto a soft shoulder on Route 11 in Andover and tipped over Friday morning, setting off a 36-hour effort to retrieve the cask and reopen the busy east-west highway.

The cask is slated to be used at the Vernon nuclear power plant which is undergoing demolition and decommissioning. The cask, which weighs upwards of 50 tons, is used as an on-site cask to transfer waste on site, according to Curtis Roberts, a spokesman for Orano, one of the companies involved in the decommissioning project with main owner NorthStar Vermont Yankee LLC. He said the cask is owned and manufactured by Orano. Orano is disassembling the nuclear reactor core, which contains high levels of radioactivity.

Roberts said the cask is to be used to transfer radioactive waste at the Vernon site, and not for transporting radioactive waste to a facility in west Texas, where most of Vermont Yankee is eventually headed.

The oversized load, towed by a large truck and positioned on a 12-axle trailer to spread out the weight on the road, had navigated Bromley Mountain, but was on a banked curve in the hamlet of Simonsville when the driver got too close to a new shoulder, and the load tipped over. The road is in the process of being re-paved.

Roberts, the Orano spokesman, said it appeared the cask was not damaged in the mishap, but would be extensively checked before put in use.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday it is aware of the crash, but since the cask was empty and no nuclear material was involved, it will only monitor the situation, according to spokeswoman Diane Screnci.

"We will continue to communicate with NorthStar about any potential impacts on decommissioning activities," Screnci said.

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Why the large truck was using Vermont's winding and at-times narrow Route 11 was a question no one could answer on Monday. Scott State, president of NorthStar Vermont Yankee LLC, has emphasized that his company has been using rail to lessen the impact on the state's roads.

Scott Reed, whose company Reed Truck Services of Claremont, N.H., was very involved in the two-day recovery effort, said it was typical that such heavy loads are not allowed on the interstate highway system and thus have to use state roads. He said he does not know why that is the case, but the same situation exists in New Hampshire.

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Reed said the curve where the truck went off the road is steeply banked.

Amy Tatko, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which gave Miller Transport of Rootstown, Ohio, the permit to transport the cask, said the issue is under review and investigation by various state agencies.

Mike Smith, director of operations at the Department of Motor Vehicles, said companies go through a review process, including an engineering survey of the proposed route, to make sure they safely use the road. Taken into consideration are the height, weight, length and width of the load, he said. The survey fee for a load weighing 215,000 pounds is about $5,000. He said the engineering review would take into consideration whether the road was under construction or being paved. The state limit for state roads is 80,000 pounds. He said the load originated, according to the permit, in Hoosick, N.Y., which is outside of Bennington, but does not know if it moved there from somewhere else.

Smith said he is not involved in the investigation of the crash.

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Miller officials didn't return messages on Monday. The transportation agency, along with the Department of Motor Vehicles, was involved in the two-day recovery effort, which involved closing Route 11 for lengthy periods.

The Vermont State Police originally reported Saturday evening that the crash involved a 215,000-pound load of concrete, and VSP spokesman Adam Silverman said Monday he does not know why the report didn't give the true nature of the crash. An updated press release, including the name of the driver and the nature of the load, was released Monday morning, about 72 hours after the crash.

Donald Pease, 62, of Cookeville, Tenn., was the driver of the 2019 Kenworth truck. Reed said the truck received minor damage, and the trailer no damage at all. He said the driver was going at what appeared to be a very low speed as he navigated through some orange traffic cones set up because of the paving project.

Pease was not injured in the crash, police said.

The police report said the wheels of the rear trailer sunk into the ground, overturning the entire 215,000 pound loaded vehicle. The oversized load was being escorted by two Bennington County Sheriff cruisers, as well as company officials. Green Mountain Power was called in to move power lines to accommodate the large crane needed to place the cask on the new trailer..

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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