Officials at Vermont Yankee say they've found the source of a leak of radioactive water that forced the plant into an unplanned shutdown. A spokesman says an access plug that had been welded over was leaking inside the plant. Technicians will begin to replace the plug, and they hope to have the plant back on line tomorrow.

 

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Latest Leak Highlights Challenges At Vermont Yankee

11/08/10 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) Officials at Vermont Yankee say they've found the source of a leak of radioactive water that forced the plant into an unplanned shutdown.

Yankee technicians hope to have the leak repaired and the plant back on line within 24 hours.

But the latest issue highlights the challenges the Entergy Corporation may face as it as it tries to sell the state's only nuclear plant.

VPR's John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) If you're buying a used car, you want to make sure it starts when you turn the key. Vermont Yankee's unplanned shutdown came as Entergy executives planned to show off the generating station to prospective buyers.

Entergy says the plant will be back on line in a day or so. But its license to operate expires in 17 months. Michael Dworkin is a former chairman of the Vermont Public Service Board who now heads the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.

He says there isn't much time for state and federal agencies to review a potential sale. And he says a buyer would only purchase the plant if it won permission to operate past March 2012.

(Dworkin) "I think it's extremely unlikely that anybody would buy a nuclear plant whose license might not be extended without the purchase contingent on extension."

(Dillon) Last winter, Entergy failed to get state approval for the license extension. Lawmakers were unhappy about leaks of radioactive tritium and false statements made by top company officials.

Entergy clearly hopes the plant will have value for a new owner, who may have a better chance at the Statehouse. But Dworkin cautions that a new owner faces an uphill battle in the Legislature and before the Public Service Board. He says a new power deal between the plant and the state's utilities might help. 

(Dworkin) I can envision a future that has Yankee, but only if it's not just a good deal, but a very, very good deal. And I haven't seen anything that looked like that. And my sense is that Entergy, by spinning out the clock ‘til the last round of the game, left itself without the time necessary to put together the pieces for a new player.

(Dillon) Entergy paid $180 million for the plant in 2002. The company isn't saying what prospective buyers may be interested in buying it. But Mark Cooper, a researcher who conducts economic analysis of energy projects, says the financial outlook is bleak right now.

(Cooper) "With Vermont Yankee you're facing some serious expenditure problems to deal with, their age, the leaks and things like that. The economics of selling that plant are simply not very good."

(Dillon) Cooper is a senior fellow at Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment. He says the New England electricity market is down as well. That means other sources of electricity are competitive with Yankee.

(Cooper) "If this was a good investment, they wouldn't be talking about selling it. So it must be a tough investment, and they hope to get someone else who can see more value in it. That's tough to see in the New England market."

(Dillon) But Entergy says the plant is a reliable generator which - prior to the weekend leak - ran 163 days without a shutdown.

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

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