Critics Request Safety Inspections at Vermont Yankee

05/20/02 12:00AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Hearings have ended on the sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. But the debate continues on whether the 550-megawatt reactor should be remodeled to boost its power output. An anti-nuclear group also wants a top-to-bottom safety review of the 30-year-old plant.

VPR's John Dillon has more.


(Dillon) Vermont Yankee is shut down now while engineers fix leaking fuel rods. The Vernon reactor is also scheduled to be sold later this summer to the Entergy Corporation of Louisiana. Entergy wants to boost the power output by around 13%.

Lawyer James Dumont represents the New England Coalition on nuclear pollution. He's pushing for an extensive state environmental review before the plant can expand its power output. Dumont also wants the state to ask the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a thorough safety study of the aging reactor:

(Dumont) "We feel very strongly that a comprehensive safety assessment must be done on this old nuclear plant. It's one of the oldest nuclear power plants in the country ¿ it's been running since '72¿. The whole point of this sale is to allow Entergy to run this plant at a faster rate, get more energy and then to get a license extension for another 30 or 40 years. It just makes no sense from a public safety point of view to get this old car suped up to run like a hot rod if there's safety problems."

(Dillon) Dumont says Vermont can learn from Maine's experience with its nuclear power plant. After a whistleblower came forward with evidence of safety problems, the governor of Maine asked for a top to bottom federal inspection.

(Dumont) "That inspection happened and the problems it uncovered led to the closure of the plant."

(Dillon) Vermont officials say if they thought there were problems at Vermont Yankee, they'd ask for a similar safety review. But Public Service Commissioner Christine Salembier, whose agency represents ratepayers, says there's no reason for the federal government to step in:

(Salembier) "The situation that caused such a study to be done in Maine is very, very different. There were some serious issues going on in Maine at the time. A whistleblower came forward and indicated that issues around monitoring of base safety calculations were purposely done wrong. And we don't have a serious situation in Vermont such as the one¿ they had in Maine."

(Dillon) Next month, the Public Service Board plans to release its decision on the Yankee sale. But lawyers for the state want to know by next week whether Yankee has begun to retrofit the plant to get more power output. The state wants to know if that work requires additional state review

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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