Parallels Drawn Between Vermont Yankee And Japan Plant

03/17/11 5:50PM By Ric Cengeri
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(Host) As events at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan unfolded this week, direct parallels were quickly drawn between that plant and Vermont Yankee.

Both plants use the same GE Mark 1 reactor and spent fuel storage systems.

But opinions differ on how vulnerable the Vernon plant would be during a natural disaster.

VPR's Ric Cengeri reports.

(Cengeri) While the likelihood of an earthquake on the level that struck Japan last week is unlikely and a tsunami on the Connecticut River even less so, severe natural disasters can still occur in New England. And in light of the situation at the  Fukushima nuclear plant this week, concern has risen about how the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon would weather the test.

Tim Mitchell is senior vice president for engineering for Entergy Nuclear, which owns the Yankee plant. Entergy says all of its plants are safe, and many of its reactors have withstood natural disasters, such as hurricanes, in the past. But Mitchell says the company is closely watching events in Japan and reviewing its own safety procedures.  

(Mitchell) "We have a full team of people that are collecting information that is coming out from Japan. The information from Japan is difficult to come by at the moment and some of it is conflicting at this point. We're looking at our ability to be able to look at severe accident mitigation guidelines; are we adequately prepared.  We do regular surveillances to make sure that equipment is available.  We are completely prepared for any accident.  We're revalidating all that information."  

(Cengeri) Mitchell says Entergy hasn't yet seen any reason to change safety procedures or backup systems at Vermont Yankee or its other nuclear plants as a result of the nuclear crisis in Japan.

But Arnie Gundersen, a member of the Vermont Yankee Public Oversight Panel and a former nuclear industry engineer, has other worries. He says there are other points of vulnerability at the plant that could put it at risk. And he wants the NRC to take action now.

(Gundersen) "There's going to be lessons learned. And after the TMI, Three Mile Island, the NRC said, well you know, there's six reactors out there that are awfully similar. Let's take a timeout and shut them down for a couple of months while we learn these lessons. And if you're going to do that, this is the time of the year to do it, because March, April, May, there's not any load growth. You know, I'd advise the NRC, taking a look at these 23 and say, hey, let's take a timeout and try to figure out if there are single points of vulnerability." 

(Cengeri) Mitchell counters that Entergy is continually assessing the level of performance at the plant, both the personnel and the equipment. And he believes that in some cases, assessment of the plant's safety is better conducted while it's operating.

For VPR News, this is Ric Cengeri in Colchester.

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