Following Disclosure, Yankee's Record Is Examined

01/18/10 5:51PM By John Dillon
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot

(Host) Last week, there was a political uproar over the disclosure of underground pipes at Vermont Yankee and rising levels of tritium in monitoring wells.

State regulators were apparently misled about the existence of the underground pipes.

And now, a lot of people are examining the record to see what Yankee said.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Up until last week, Entergy Vermont Yankee had insisted that the plant did not have underground pipes that carry radioactive material.

The issue came up as Entergy Vice President Jay Thayer testified under oath last May at the Public Service Board. With Thayer on the stand, lawyer John Cotter for the Department of Public Service asked:

(Cotter) "Does Vermont Yankee have any underground piping that carries radionuclides?"

(Dillon) Thayer paused for a full 12 seconds as he contemplated his answer.

(Thayer) "The reason I hesitate is I don't believe there is active piping in service today carrying radionuclides underground."

(Dillon) Thayer went on to say that he was aware of an old underground piping system - but he said that said it was no longer in use. Thayer now says he made a mistake on two counts. The plant does have underground pipes in active use, and he says he failed to get back to the board with the correct information.

(Thayer) "I told them incorrect information, and I feel bad about that."

(Dillon) But Thayer and other Entergy officials say that a consulting firm hired by the state to study Vermont Yankee was told about the pipes.

(Thayer) "We find that in our records, that we did turn that over to them."

(Dillon) But that's not exactly how Arnie Gundersen remembers it. He's a nuclear expert and member of a legislative oversight panel on Yankee. Gundersen said Entergy was specifically asked in 2008 if it had underground pipes containing radioactivity. The answer was no, so the state's consultants were directed not to look any further. Gundersen has a chain of emails dating back to 2008 showing that the pipe question came up several times.

(Gundersen) "They had numerous opportunities to correct the record, from October of 2008 to December 2008 to March of 2009 to the summer of 2009 to the fall of 2009, and they didn't. It was only when the pipes started to leak that they decided to correct the record."

(Dillon) Gundersen said if the pipes are leaking, it could cost more to clean up the site and decommission the plant.

Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the monitoring well - located about 30 feet from the Connecticut River - was tested again late last week. It showed a level of close to 20,000 picocuries per liter. An earlier test had indicated a level of 17,000 picocuries. The number refers to the amount of radioactivity being emitted. Williams said that despite the higher level, the radiation does not seem to be increasing.

(Williams)  "Essentially, those two readings - 17,000 to 20,000 - those are in the ballpark where you could say it's essentially stable at this point."

(Dillon) The tritium indicates that the groundwater near the well is contaminated.

It's also of concern because it could mean that underground pipes are leaking.

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

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