Vt. plant concerns City of Northampton

Vt. plant concerns Northampton
Tuesday, March 07, 2006

NORTHAMPTON – Warned that an accident at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant could make Hurricane Katrina look like a shower, the City Council last week authorized Mayor Mary Clare Higgins to convey the city’s concerns to the Vermont Public Service Board.

Several residents, including at least one who has been arrested for trespassing at the facility, took issue with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision allowing the plant to boost its output, or “uprate,” by 20 percent.

Over the weekend, vibrations detected in the steam system at the nuclear power plant prompted Entergy Nuclear to hold off on further increases in the plant’s energy production.

The company had completed a 5 percent boost in its electrical output when analysis required by the NRC concluded additional increases should be delayed so the vibrations could be further evaluated.

“That’s built into the plan and the NRC is overseeing this,” Yankee spokesman Robert Williams said yesterday.

Vermont Yankee has been in operation since 1972, making it one of the country’s oldest operating nuclear facilities. Entergy Nuclear, which purchased the plant in 2002, has also applied for a 20-year extension on the plant’s license.

“As elected representatives of an area only 31 miles downwind from Vermont Yankee, we feel we have an obligation to ask for an independent Safety Assessment,” Higgins wrote last week.

Larry M. Smith, manager of communications for Vermont Yankee, yesterday defended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision , noting that it came after 4½ years and 11,000 hours of review.

In her letter, Higgins expressed concerns about the storage of nuclear waste in casks on the banks of the Connecticut River. Smith said the government has reneged on its promise to dispose of spent nuclear fuel, forcing Vermont Yankee and some other 30 nuclear power plants to store waste on site. “It’s safe and the environmentally safe thing to do,” he said.

Although there will be a three-year process of inspecting plant equipment and studying aging issues, Smith said Energy is confident the facility can run safely for another 20 years.

Some Northampton residents were not as sanguine about their safety, however. Frances Crowe, who had trespassing charges against her dismissed last year after protesting at Entergy’s headquarters in Brattleboro, warned the council that the plant could endanger thousands of area residents.

“Residents in Western Massachusetts live downwind from a problem nuclear reactor, yet are being treated as if they have no legitimate voice in decisions regarding its operation,” she said.

Crowe described the reactors as “aged, brittle and cracked,” and questioned whether it can handle the boost in power.

Dr. Henry Rosenberg of the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility pointed out that the citizens of New Orleans were able to throw a Mardi Gras celebration just six months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city. A nuclear accident will offer no such recovery, he said.

“When catastrophe occurs, we’re going to have to evacuate our city,” Rosenberg said, “and we will not be coming back.”


Feds put Vermont Yankee uprate on hold due to excess vibration

Feds put Vermont Yankee uprate on hold due to excess vibration
By Kathryn Casa | Vermont Guardian

posted March 7, 2006

BRATTLEBORO — Federal regulators have frozen the Vermont Yankee power increase at 105 percent after a measurement on Saturday recorded vibrations that exceeded acceptable levels, the Vermont Guardian has learned.

“The data forwarded to us on Saturday for the ‘A’ main steam line exceeded one of the criteria levels. So, in accordance with the monitoring plan, a hold has been placed on further power increases while the data is evaluated,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan told the Vermont Guardian in an e-mail late Monday.

The NRC last week issued approval to allow Vermont Yankee to increase power to 120 percent of its design capacity under close scrutiny because of concerns about the plant’s steam dryer, the component that removes water droplets from the steam before it feeds into the turbines.

The conditions require VY operators to increase power in increments of 5 percent and hold each increase for 96 hours after the vibration and stress measurements are sent to regulators.

“The NRC staff is independently evaluating the 105 percent data and will review the engineering evaluation [necessary for further power ascension] after it is completed by Entergy,” Sheehan said. “Our resident inspectors will continue to monitor Entergy’s actions onsite.”

An inspection of the VY dryer in November revealed more than 40 hairline cracks. VY officials said the fissures were probably old, and were detected with sophisticated magnification equipment first used during the most recent refueling outage to check 20 cracks found in the dryer in 2004.

Although the steam dryer is considered a non-safety component, experts say breakage could compromise the reactor’s safety systems if, for example, a piece of the cracked dryer were to break off and lodge in a valve.

Cracks discovered late last year in the welded reinforcements of the Dresden II reactor’s steam dryer in Illinois, which is similar to Vermont Yankee, also raised concerns at the NRC about the stability of the devices.

Dresden II, a boiling water reactor like Vermont Yankee, was shut down for a refueling outage when inspectors discovered fissures in six triangular stainless steel gussets that had been welded onto the plant’s cracked steam dryer in an effort to reinforce it.

“To NRC’s credit they’re saying let’s take a look at this,” said Ray Shadis, technical advisor to the anti-nuclear group New England Coalition. “But what we anticipate is that they will once again sharpen their pencils, do some calculations and figure out that maybe they can run a little bit longer.”

Last week Shadis said he didn’t expect VY to exhibit problems at 105 percent because operators last year told the NRC that they had already run the plant above 100 percent.

“If they have excessive vibrations or strain at 105 percent and the executives from VY have already admitted that they routinely run flow rates in excess of 100 percent, I have some concern that they should permit the reactor to run at all,” Shadis added.

Vermont Yankee officials did not return phone calls at press time.