State may fine Yankee for failure to monitor dry cask radiation

08/05/09 7:34AM By John Dillon
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
Casks for storing spent fuel sit behind a chain-link fence at the Vermont Yankee plant.
(Host) State regulators may levy fines against Vermont Yankee for its failure to monitor radiation that comes from its high-level nuclear waste.

The company was required to report the temperature and radiation from storage containers that hold spent nuclear fuel. State officials say they're concerned about the apparent violation.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The monitoring was required as part of a state license that allows Yankee to store spent fuel in five steel and concrete casks near the reactor.

It was supposed to begin last year, but Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said the company didn't discover until late June that it had never established the monitoring protocol.

(Smith) "And it's an oversight by us. We did not catch that until an engineer who was assigned to the dry fuel storage project was going through a checklist."

(Dillon) The Public Service Board - the three member panel that regulates utilities - put the monitoring requirement into a 2006 license that allows Yankee to store its spent fuel on site.

The PSB is now reviewing the issue. Kurt Janson is the board's general counsel.

(Janson) "Without speaking to any specific circumstances or cases that might be presented, as a general matter, the board has the authority to impose civil penalties under statute, with the state setting out a number of factors that the board needs to take into consideration in determining whether a penalty is appropriate, and the size of the penalty."

(Dillon)  Richard Smith is deputy commissioner of the Public Service Department, the state office that represents ratepayers. He says the state is concerned that Yankee failed to follow the requirement in the state license, which is called a certificate of public good, or CPG.

(Smith) "I would characterize it this way: because it's at a nuclear power plant, I think for that reason alone it raises everyone's concern that a condition isn't being met in a CPG."

(Dillon) Yankee says its radiation releases are still within state and federal limits.

But that doesn't satisfy Senate President Peter Shumlin, who represents Windham County.

(Shumlin) "It's yet another example of how Entergy Louisiana seems to do things as they want to do, and don't really have much regard for what they're supposed to do. I think it's the reason they've lost the trust of almost every single Vermonter with the exception of Governor Douglas and the Department of Public Service."

(Dillon) Shumlin has asked the state to release its annual radiation report on Vermont Yankee. Shumlin wants the radiation data made public before regulators rule on Yankee's request to extend its fence line boundary.

(Shumlin) There are a lot of folks who think there is a link between the information not being released from last year, and the fact that Yankee isn't monitoring properly, and the fact that doses may well be higher than allowed, which is why they are trying to move the fence line. So we need to have this information now, and we need to have it before the board rules.

(Dillon) Yankee says it's going through all its permits with the state to make sure its following all the state requirements.

This is an issue for state regulators as well. The Public Service Department chastised Yankee in a letter sent last month. The department also said that plant officials must make sure they're following through on changes to make the plant more reliable.

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

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larry_smith public_service vermont_yankee dry_cask_storage kurt_janson richard_smith business politics
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