Electrical problem causes mishap as Vermont Yankee tries to move fuel

05/19/08 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Vermont Yankee's first attempt to move radioactive spent fuel ended in a mishap last week.

An electrical relay on a crane failed and the fuel container slipped about four inches to the floor.

State and federal regulators said no radiation was released, and that the public was not in danger.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The operators of Vermont Yankee have to move tons of highly radioactive spent fuel from a storage pool inside the plant to steel and concrete casks that will be stored outside.

Last week, plant workers had to halt the first fuel transfer because the crane carrying the container failed to stop where it was supposed to.

The 97-ton load slipped about four inches to the floor, but officials said it did not drop suddenly. Rob Williams is a Yankee spokesman.

(Williams) ``The crane safety design provides for a very slow lowering in any circumstances, including in this circumstance where we had a relay problem in the crane mechanism.''

(Dillon) The fuel transfer operation has been halted while operators make sure the equipment is working correctly.

Yankee tested the equipment before last week's mishap, but operators did not qualify the crane using a test load that weighed the same as 97 tons of fuel.

(Williams) ``There was load testing, but it wasn't the full weight of a loaded cask.''

(Dillon) The company will now re-test the equipment using the full weight. Neil Sheehan is a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

(Sheehan) ``And they will test out the crane and the brakes to make sure they're functioning properly before they try to resume moving the cask that's now sitting on the re-fueling floor.''

(Dillon) The NRC said no radiation was released in last week's incident. No one was hurt and the cask was not damaged.

But Sheehan said the commission wants to know why the failure occurred.

(Sheehan) ``Obviously, when this one is done, they plan on loading additional casks. And they can't encounter this problem again.''

(Dillon) The Vermont Department of Public Service had its nuclear engineer on site during the operation. Steve Wark is a department spokesman.

(Wark) ``We're always concerned when there's anything operationally that could be considered an abnormality with Vermont Yankee. But it's one of the reasons that we have the levels of reporting that go on.''

(Dillon) But Wark also pointed out that the back-up system function as it was designed.

Yankee has to store its spent fuel at the Vernon site because the federal government has encountered long delays in building a nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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