Vermont Yankee: Entergy asks PSB to change previous decisions; Conduit seal missing during inspection
by Alan Panebaker | May 29, 2012 vtdigger.org Entergy Corp., the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, has asked the Vermont Public Service Board to change its past decisions.
In a filing Friday, the Louisiana company asked the state energy regulatory board to modify conditions in orders from 2002 and 2006 that would prohibit the plant from operating past March 21, 2012, without a new license.
The board is allowing the plant to operate during the relicensing proceeding, but state laws and board orders say the plant cannot operate or store spent nuclear fuel after that date without a new license.
Entergy is embroiled with the state on multiple legal fronts as it attempts to renew its license with the Vermont Public Service Board. A federal judge issued the company a favorable decision earlier this year, finding state laws requiring legislative approval for the plant to continue operating violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Both the state and Entergy appealed that decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, Entergy is also asking for a renewed certificate of public good to continue operating in the state.
Entergy says the older dockets requiring the plant to stop operating beyond March 21, 2012, without a new license or store spent nuclear fuel produced after that date should be changed “to prevent hardship and injustice.”
Entergy argues that it would be unfair if the state penalized it for operating outside the bounds of state law, especially when those orders came out before the state passed laws that ended in a legislative veto of the plant’s relicensing.
“Entergy VY had no reason to expect in 2002 or 2006 that the State would engage in efforts to delay or prevent approval of operations after March 21, 2012,” the company’s filing states.
The filing also states that it was the Legislature’s fault that Entergy was unable to get a new license by the March 21 date, when its old one expired. In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted against allowing the Public Service Board to consider relicensing the plant. That decision was based on a law that a federal judge found unconstitutional.
“It would be especially unfair to punish Entergy VY for these delays given that they stemmed from Vermont statutes that have now been found (by the District Court) to be preempted by federal law or enjoined,” the filing reads.
A spokesman for Entergy said the company would let Friday’s filing speak for itself.
Sandra Levine, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont, said Entergy is trying to go back on its word.
The requirements that Entergy wants to change are based on agreements they entered into with the State of Vermont, Levine said.
“Rather than abide by its commitments, Entergy is seeking to change the rules to allow it to do whatever it wants,” she said.
She said the company knew 10 years ago when it bought the plant that there was no guarantee of its operation beyond March, when its license expired.
Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said her department is currently reviewing the filing and plans to respond within the time frame the board sets.
The department, which represents ratepayers before the Public Service Board, has taken the position that the plant can operate under state law while the relicensing process is ongoing.
The plant will continue to operate on its expired license well into 2013. Final briefs are due in August 2013.
Inspection finds conduit seal missing at Vermont Yankee
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has replaced a missing conduit seal between an outside manhole and an interior switchgear room.
The seal is designed to prevent water from entering the gear room and causing issues with the plant’s electrical system.
According to Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams, the missing seal came to light during an inspection. Williams said plant operators replaced the seal and are checking other conduits.
Advocates for shutting the plant down say a missing seal could result in failing safety components in the event of heavy rain or snowmelt.
Raymond Shadis, technical adviser to the New England Coalition, a group that opposes the plant’s continued operation, said in the worst case scenario flooding of the plant’s underground wiring system could result in a short circuit and potential blackout.
“The issue is flooding from storm runoff, like rain or snowmelt, of the conduit system,” Shadis said.
According to a report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the incident, “internal flooding of both Switchgear Rooms could possibly affect (a.)safe shutdown, (b.)removal of decay heat, (c.)control of release of radioactive material and (d.)mitigating an accident.”
Williams said the plant is situated well above the Connecticut River, which it borders, and it is well-drained. He said the plant had no issues during Tropical Storm Irene. Williams said when there are flooding events, people are assigned to look for leakage at the plant and have a pump available.
Shadis said he has concerns that if water was able to penetrate some of the electrical system, there could be issues with operating cooling pumps or controls for the reactor.
“This is a very serious issue for Vermont Yankee,” Shadis said. “What we don’t know is how long the plant operated in this condition.”
On March 5, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an annual assessment letter finding the Vermont Yankee plant was operating at a satisfactory level according to its performance indicators.
“The NRC determined that overall, Vermont Yankee operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives,” the letter states.
Shadis said his group is concerned that the NRC report only reflects an inspection of 5 to 10 percent of the facility and its operations, and does not guarantee the entire plant is operating safely.
At a meeting last week in Brattleboro when federal officials came to discuss the annual assessment, protesters disrupted the meeting.
The plant has also experienced problems with its steam condenser, which turns heated steam that spins the plant’s turbines back into water.