VY closed to fix leak

Monday November 8, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was shut down Sunday night after a small leak of radioactive water was discovered in the system pipe section in the turbine building.

At about 7 p.m., the plant ceased operation. An investigation by plant technicians and engineers identified a leak of approximately 60 drops per minute from a pipe in the feedwater system piping.

A spokesman for Entergy, which owns and operates the nuclear plant in Vernon, said that the leak is in a 24-inch piping section of the feedwater system piping, which cannot be repaired while the plant is operating.

"A conservative decision was made to take the plant out of service to perform the repair," said Entergy spokesman Larry Smith.

Smith said the leak was confined to the plant and that there was no threat to public health, safety, or the plant's employees.

"All the water went into the floor drains and sub pumps," Smith said. He added that he wasn't sure how long the plant would be offline.

"It typically takes at least 13 hours for the plant to cool down before technicians can assess the repairs," Smith said.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said agency inspectors were overseeing the shutdown. He said the water would have low levels of radioactivity, such as tritium and other isotopes, as part of the usual plant operation.

"The levels are so low, they really wouldn't be harmful to anybody," Sheehan said Sunday. "There is no immediate health or safety concern as far as this leakage. Any leakage would be captured by the plant system so there's no exposure to the public."

The outage was not expected to cause any shortage of power in New England, which has a surplus of electricity. The plant provides electricity to the region's power grid.

The plant had been operating at a reduced power for a scheduled rod pattern adjustment and to support work by Public Service Company of New Hampshire, he said.

On Thursday, Entergy announced that the company was entertaining offers from other energy companies about the sale of Vermont Yankee.

"We're exploring the potential sale of the plant because we want to do what's at the best interest of all our stakeholders, especially the 650 men and women who work at the plant," Michael Burns, spokesman for Entergy Corp. in New Orleans, told the Reformer Thursday morning. "A sale of this nature is normally explored on a confidential basis initially and only made public if and when certain circumstances warrant. As this process continues to unfold at Vermont Yankee, it reached the point that due diligence visits to the plant are underway and we felt it was appropriate to make a limited public announcement."

For a license extension past its current deadline of March 21, 2012, Entergy or any new owner would have to receive approval from both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a certificate of public good from the state of Vermont.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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


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