VY pipe report: Some behavior is 'troubling'
BRATTLEBORO -- Even though an internal investigation concluded that no Vermont Yankee employees intentionally misled state regulators or their contractors, in a report issued Friday, the law firm hired by Entergy to prepare the report said a number of staffers failed to follow through on requests for more information or "rationalized away the inconsistency or downplayed it so that there was no true inconsistency left."
In a 114-page report filed Thursday, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, which conducted the investigation, stated Entergy's agents and representatives gave incomplete answers to questions by the state Public Service Board and should have corrected them later, but that they never tried to deceive.
The investigation was a result of allegations that Yankee representatives gave incorrect or inaccurate information during discussions on the extent of piping systems at the plant in Vernon.
The report blames the misstatements, in part, on differing interpretations of "underground piping" -- pipes carrying radioactive material that were in contact with soil as opposed to those carrying the material that were underground but contained within trenches.
Staffers also concluded that a request to describe underground piping at the plant had to do with those carrying liquid but not gaseous effluents.
State officials and a contractor working for the state were told in 2008 and 2009 that the plant didn't have the kind of underground piping that could carry tritium or other radioactive substances, but in January plant officials announced that tritium had been found in a groundwater monitoring well at the plant.
The source of the leak was determined to be two steam trap drain lines in the plant's advanced off gas system, which Yankee representatives didn't consider in the scope of a comprehensive reliability assessment commissioned by the state because they were contained in an underground pipe tunnel and were not in direct contact with soil.
The law firm said that in May 2009 testimony before the Public Service Board, Entergy Nuclear Vice President Jay Thayer didn't mean to give misleading information, and that others in the company identified the discrepancies but failed to correct or clarify them.
"It's evident in reading the report that people recognized within Entergy that there was something wrong with Mr. Thayer's testimony," said David O'Brien, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service. "There was a lot of conversation among the players at Entergy in between testimony given by Thayer and (site vice president) Michael Colomb, but yet the record was not corrected."
The law firm found that "certain (Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee) personnel failed at times to clarify understandings and assumptions and therefore allowed statements to be made that were incomplete and inaccurate when viewed in a context different from the one relevant to the (comprehensive reliability assessment)."
One Yankee employee told the investigators that clarifications were not asked for nor was more information given because "senior management (wanted) to avoid expansions of scope of the audit ..."
They were also advised by Downs Rachlin Martin, which represents Entergy in Vermont, that their responses "should be directed solely to the question asked and should not offer information, analysis or opinions not requested."
Morgan Lewis & Bockius determined that "the process at ENVY used to respond to this question was not rigorous and effective, that certain ENVY personnel failed to provide thorough and clear information to make assumptions in the response explicit and clearly understood ...."
Though a number of Yankee employees recognized that statements about underground piping at the plant were technically incorrect, there were no deliberate attempts to mislead anyone but neither were there any attempts to communicate their misgivings to each other or senior management, wrote the law firm.
Because of this lack of communication, Colomb was not "properly prepared" to testify to state officials about the extent of the underground piping, according to the investigation report.
The failure of a number of employees to communicate was "troubling," wrote Morgan Lewis & Bockius, and one employee's attempt to "downplay the issue" was "especially troubling."
But, the law firm concluded, "There was no discussion about keeping this information from Colomb or from the PSB proceeding. They stated emphatically that there was no intent to keep anything from the proceeding."
The comprehensive reliability assessment was commissioned by the state Legislature, which asked Nuclear Safety Associates to take "vertical slices" of seven whole plant systems including "(a)n underground piping system that carries radionuclides."
The scope of the investigation related to the piping "caused a great deal of confusion," according to the report, resulting in the conclusion by both Yankee and DPS that only pipes carrying liquid materials were under consideration -- not those carrying gaseous materials.
The state's nuclear engineer, Uldis Vanags, claimed "NSA did not seek out the information requested because it was beyond the work scope ... agreed upon by the POP and DPS."
Because Yankee has no underground pipes as described, staffers testified there was no such system to evaluate.
Staffers did not consider pipes in "below grade" trenches or vaults in the scope of the assessment, only "buried" pipes, which are in direct contact with soil, none of which they believed existed at the plant. A member of the Public Oversight Panel agreed with the Yankee staffers.
"It was this shared understanding that led to much, but not all, of the questionable ENVY statements," wrote Morgan Lewis & Bockius.
In addition, Yankee staffers stated during interviews that Nuclear Safety Associates was staffed by "very capable senior nuclear engineering managers (who) did not (misunderstand) the extent of underground piping systems ..."
NSA then turned its attention to other systems with pipes carrying radioactive water.
Despite repeated attempts by members of the Public Oversight Panel, which was tasked with reviewing the CRA, Yankee personnel continued to deny the existence of underground pipes carrying radionuclides.
Following the discovery of the leak of tritiated water at the plant but prior to the report's release, five Yankee employees were placed on administrative leave and six others were reprimanded.
Morgan Lewis, of Washington, D.C., firm spent more than 2,300 hours reviewing more than 65,000 documents and interviewing 29 people, according to the report.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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