Watchdog group appeals Yankee power boost approval

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Original article – Boston Globe

Watchdog group appeals Yankee power boost approval

By David Gram, Associated Press Writer | April 24, 2006

MONTPELIER, Vt. –The Vermont Public Service Board committed “extreme procedural violations” when it gave final approval for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to increase its power output by 20 percent, a nuclear watchdog group has charged.

The phrase was contained in an appeal by the New England Coalition to the Vermont Supreme Court in which it asked the court to reverse the board’s March 3 order saying Vermont Yankee could go ahead with the power increase.

The board’s decision, on the heels of final approval for the power increase by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Vermont Yankee and the NRC had made a satisfactory effort to meet a key condition the board had set when it gave the power boost its tentative approval in March of 2004.
The NRC has exclusive jurisdiction over several issues surrounding nuclear plants, including their safety. But the state Public Service Board has the authority to weigh the economic impacts of power plants and other utility projects.

During board hearings on the power increase, the New England Coalition argued for an “independent safety assessment” of Vermont Yankee before it was allowed to increase power.

The board instead called for a special NRC review of the likely effect the power increase might have on the plant’s reliability. It reasoned that it had the power to call for such a review as a condition for approving the power increase because the plant’s reliability would affect electric rates by increasing the likelihood of outages at Vermont Yankee.

The NRC did a special review. In its March 3 order, the board said in effect that although the federal agency’s review was not exactly what it had called for, it was good enough.

The NRC review “did not employ precisely the same methodology we had requested,” the board said. But it said it “appears to have nonetheless achieved the same purpose.”

In its appeal, the coalition said the board reached that conclusion without any of the usual court-like hearings in which witnesses can be cross-examined. The board hosted a conference with the NRC to hear about its inspection, but the information gathered there was not under oath, the group said.

“The NRC specifically acknowledged that its inspection did not even address the reliability of the plant, but was rather limited to an examination of whether certain safety mechanisms would operate in the event of an accident,” the coalition’s appeal said.

Robert Williams, spokesman for Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Nuclear, said the “the NRC conducted the most comprehensive review of any plant uprate they’ve ever done.”

He added that “the PSB relied on those comprehensive reviews and they rightly decided not to modify their approval. We’re very confident the Vermont Supreme Court will affirm the board’s decisions.”
Vermont Yankee has been increasing power in stages. It raised the level to 115 percent of its original power output on Saturday; data the plant collected after reaching that level is now being reviewed by the NRC, Williams said.

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