Yankee's Credibility Challenged
01/15/10 5:50PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) Vermont Yankee this week confirmed there are underground pipes on the plant's property that may be leaking radioactive material.
As VPR's John Dillon explains, the company had previously assured lawmakers and the Public Service Board that the plant had no such pipes.
(Dillon) Yankee wants the Legislature to give it permission to operate for another 20 years.
But the company's credibility was seriously damaged this week. Political leaders from both sides of the aisle suggested Yankee misled lawmakers and state regulators.
(Brian Dubie) "Well, the issue here is trust."
(Peter Shumlin) "The challenge that they have is that Vermonters expect people to be truthful."
(Shap Smith) "The issue here is one of trust."
(Dillon) That's Republican Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, along with Senate President Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith, both Democrats.
They criticized Entergy Vermont Yankee after the company revealed that it did have underground piping that could be the source of radioactive tritium recently found in the groundwater.
Smith and Shumlin said they want a legislative oversight panel to re-examine the piping issue. Peter Shumlin:
(Shumlin) "We need a very timely response because we don't want this to interfere with any vote that might take place this legislative session, so we're going to be asking our folks to move with speed, caution and a real attention to the facts."
(Dillon) House Speaker Smith said the legislature's oversight panel asked Yankee several times whether the company had underground pipes that could carry radioactive water. The answer, according to a member of the oversight panel, was an unequivocal, "No."
(Smith) "This was a representation that was made to the audit committee, it was inaccurate. They were pushed on it. And it causes serious concerns to me about whether we can trust them on any of the information they're providing to us."
(Dillon) Two Yankee officials also testified under oath at the Public Service Board that the plant did not have underground pipes that could leak. One of those officials is Entergy Vice President Jay Thayer. He says he made a mistake.
(Thayer) "I said to the Public Service Board that I didn't believe there were such pipes - radioactive pipes - in active service. And I offered to follow up. I was wrong on the first count. And I didn't follow up on the second count. That's my mistake and I take full responsibility for that."
(Dillon) But Thayer says the legislature's oversight panel was given the correct information about the pipes. He said he welcomes a new investigation by the panel.
(Thayer) "We think they'll conclude that there was adequate information on the table."
(Dillon) The Douglas administration also wants the Public Service Board to hold a hearing on the piping issue. The administration is considering seeking financial sanctions against the company.
A lawyer for an anti-nuclear group says the board also needs to look at whether the presence of underground pipes - and contaminated water - will add to the cost of decommissioning the plant. Jared Margolis represents the New England Coalition.
(Margolis) "The decommissioning costs were assessed based on a plant that didn't have underground pipes. Now, the amount of money to remove those pipes is one thing. But now that we know they're leaking, there's also the amount of money and the time that it's going to take to remediate the contaminated soils from those leaks. And that's information the board needs to have to understand if the decommissioning costs are adequate and exactly what the decommissioning costs are going to be."
(Dillon) And the state's largest electric utility expressed concern about the recent revelations. Central Vermont Public Service Corporation said Yankee has the potential to offer a low-cost power contract. But it said Yankee must respond openly to concerns about safety and reliability.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon.