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February 21, 2011

UVM Forum Asks: Vermont Yankee, Yea or Nay?

\F-2dudes-arnie HCS+November+2006In roughly one year, the operating license of Vermont's lone nuclear power plant — Vermont Yankee — expires.

Despite a continued push by Entergy, the plant's owners, along with a vocal group of businesses and citizens, there appears to be little evidence that lawmakers, or the governor, will reverse last year's legislative vote and pave the way for the plant to have its relicensing case heard before the state Public Service Board.

Since last year there have been three, possibly four, leaks that have spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of water laced with tritium into the groundwater and Connecticut River. Last week, a high-pressure steam leak forced the evacuation of the reactor building.

On Thursday, two experts on nuclear energy will debate Vermont Yankee's continued operation in the next installment of the University of Vermont's Janus Forum: "Vermont Yankee: Shut It Down or Keep It Running?" The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 4 p.m. in the Davis Center's Silver Maple Ballroom.

Speaking in support of Vermont Yankee is Howard Shaffer, who has been a member of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) for 34 years, and is nuclear engineer.

Speaking in favor of shutting down VY is Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer of Fairewinds Associates, and a former nuclear industry executive and licensed reactor operator.

Shaffer believes VY's largest obstacles to relicensing are not technical, but political. Despite the leaks — and other assorted problems with failing parts in recent years — Shaffer said VY has been running much more reliably since Entergy took over operations. What hasn't been happening, however, is better outreach from both the industry and the U.S. Department of Energy, which has a role in promoting nuclear power, to respond to charges by opponents that VY is not safe to operate beyond 2012.

"A charge unanswered is a charge believed," notes Shaffer. "From my own point of view, the public outreach by VY and the industry has been less than desirable."

As noted in this week's "Fair Game," Entergy spent more than $700,000 to lobby the public and lawmakers during the past biennium.

Shaffer, and others in Vermont, are trying to ramp up educational efforts to dispel what he claims are false assumptions about VY's operations.

The failure of underground pipes was expected, said Shaffer, and construction design books from the time of VY's construction even note that the pipes were built with the best-available technology at the time.

"The problems we are seeing right now are happening across the industry and are not particular to Vermont Yankee," said Shaffer. "It's doing well from a safety point of view and a reliability point of view. Is it perfect? No. but we don't demand that of any other technology."

Shaffer said the amount of tritium released into the soils, though not insignificant, isn't enough to harm health — and in some cases emits less tritium than would be released from a well-lit "exit" sign in a commercial building.

A steam leak in the reactor building last week, Shaffer noted, may seem bad to the public, but it's not. "It's a ho-hum kind of thing. Steam leaks are normal," said Shaffer.

Shaffer hopes he and others can convince lawmakers that the need for low-cost, baseload power for companies like IBM will persuade them to rethink their vote from last year. In addition, he notes, there is growing concern about the reliability of the regional grid without Vermont Yankee.

Besides, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has, in each instance of a leak or other problems at VY, concluded that proper steps were taken to mitigate any harm and that the plant's owners took appropriate steps in response.

Gundersen said it's not Vermont's role to prove that Vermont Yankee should shut down — in fact, it's the opposite.

"The burden of proof is not on Vermont, it's on Entergy. What have they done to show us that relicensure is warranted? I don't come up with anything," said Gundersen. "We don't have to shut them down. They have to prove they are worthy of our trust to continue."

By Gundersen's count there have been nine, perhaps ten, leaks since 2009: two in the high pressure cooling injection system, two in the feedwater system, two in the reactor-water cleanup system and three, possibly four, in the offgas system. These latter leaks have been the cause of tritium leaking into the groundwater through pipes that Entergy officials told regulators and lawmakers didn't exist. On top of that, cooling towers have collapsed and a transformer caught fire.

"I break the problems associated with Vermont Yankee into three pieces: component issues, management issues and integrity issues," said Gundersen, who was part of an oversight panel that concluded VY could operate reliably for another 20 years if it addressed more than 80 issues of concern.

To date, Gundersen said, those issues haven't been completely addressed, though there are plans in place to do so. "This is, of course, the same people who told us to trust them there weren't underground pipes," said Gundersen.

Eleven people were reprimanded last year for helping to cover up the fact that the firm misled state regulators and lawmakers about the existence of those underground pipes.

"When lying becomes that systemic, it doesn't go away from changing your hard hat from Entergy to Exelon," said Gunderen. The latter firm is rumored to be interested in buying Vermont Yankee as a last-ditch effort to instill new confidence in the plant's operations. A sale to a new owner and new power deal with Vermont utilities are being touted as ways to get lawmakers to reconsider VY's fate.

A power-purchase agreement between Entergy and the state's utilities has been rumored in the offing for weeks now. In a recent earnings call, Entergy's CEO J. Wayne Leonard said he expects a PPA by mid-year. He noted if a PPA with Vermont utilities doesn't materialize, he didn't think that would impact the company's decision to keep running beyond 2012.

In other words, with or without, Vermont Entergy sees a future for the plant, raising the specter of a federal court fight.

Could the case end up in court? Both Shaffer and Gundersen believe its a possible outcome.

Shaffer said he thinks Entergy would likely prevail because it can make the case that Vermont is overstepping its authority and getting in the way of the federal role in licensing nuclear power operations.

Gundersen said if Entergy does go to court, it will have reneged on not one, but two, signed agreements that it would abide by state law to continue operating. Without approval from the Vermont Public Service Board, it cannot continue to operate.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has yet to deny a license extension, has been reluctant to use its federal authority to supercede a state's ability to regulate environmental and energy impacts of nuclear power inside their borders.

That said, if the NRC does not rule on VY's application before the power plant's license expires in 2012, its present license would remain intact. In other words, VY can continue operating under its "old" license until the NRC renders a decision.

Entergy CEO Leonard said the company's "line in the sand" moment is fast approaching before it has to decide whether to fight on to keep running before 2012, or shut down. The plant is scheduled to be refueled in October.

If the plant does not intend to stay open beyond 2012, Gundersen notes, Entergy could easily pull the plug on the plant then since during that time other investments would need to be made to replace underground pipes and other failing equipment. Refueling occurs every 18 months.

"If they do decide to remain open, I don't see them running for longer than until 2016, maybe 2017," said Gundersen. Why? Because at that point the plant's main condenser would have to be replaced. A new condenser could cost as much as $200 million — its price is largely dependent on the global cost of copper.

Shaffer said the costs associated with keeping VY open are worth it to regional power customers — and when one considers the revenue Vermont takes in from VY to the Clean Energy Development Fund, as well as the employees who work at Vermont Yankee. About one third of the company's nearly 600 employees live in Vermont.

"and in some cases emits less tritium than would be released from a well-lit "exit" sign in a commercial building."

Which still isn't a health issue as tritium is unable to penetrate the skin and in fact doesn't penetrate more then 6mm of AIR !!.

In ALL cases radioactive tritium should not be leaking from known or unknown sources at properly functioning nuclear power plant.

In ALL cases radioactive tritium should not be leaking from known or unknown sources at properly functioning nuclear power plant."

Right. And so the remedy is to make the plant clean up the leaked water, not to shut the plant down forever.

"Right.And so the remedy is to make the plant clean up the leaked water, not to shut the plant down forever."

Yeah right! So how's that remedy working out for VY ?
Come on back when the leak is fixed or even located.

Steam leak? Ho-hum, No big deal.Tritium leak? No big deal.Collapsed cooling tower? No big deal.Small fire? No big deal.Lost fuel rods? No big deal.Underfunded de-commissioning fund? No big deal.
There is a pattern here that is a big deal.

"On Thursday, two experts on nuclear energy will debate Vermont Yankee's continued operation in the next installment of the University of Vermont's Janus Forum: "Vermont Yankee: Shut It Down or Keep It Running?"

The average UVM student is unable to grasp that throwing garbage out on the lawn is wrong, but I am sure that they can grasp the subtleties involved in the VY debate.

I wish someone would report all the mishaps at say McNeil. To think there is never going to be any type of mishap at a power plant is idealistic nonsense. If these same events occurred at say an ethanol distillery no one would care, it wouldn't even make the news. Because its a nuclear plant fear and ignorance take over.

Reminds me of a quote from MIB

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals"

@ BP09

I'd say YOU have a steam leak. Shall we shut you down for good?

And, by the way, the underfunding of the decommissioning fund was caused by the Great Recession (I'm sure you've heard of it) and the stock market, not by any design to underfund it. Did VT regulators tell VY that they had to put the money under a matress? No. Did they predict the stock market crash themselves? No. Good thing these geniuses were regulating this plant, huh? All they've done for the past decade is enjoyed the wicked cheap electricity and otherwise plunder one of Vermont's major economic engines.

But in any event how's shutting down the plant gonna help build up the fund? (Hint: it will do the opposite.)

Oh, and by the way, where's the money for the Clean Energy Development Fund gonna come from when we shut down VY? From a huge surtax on your electricity bill, that's where.

And when VY stops buying stuff from VT businesses and stops paying taxes to VT and when the several hundred unemployed workers stop buying stuff and stop paying taxes and either go on unemployment or move out of the state, who's gonna pay for their lost economic input and pick up the slack on their lost taxes? You are.

Knock yourself out.

Drinking a glass of milk will give you a greater radiation dose than drinking a glass of tritium-containing groundwater from Vermont Yankee.
This is because milk like other foods naturally contains potassium, an essential nutrient. A small fraction of all natural potassium is potassium-40, a radioactive nuclide which emits strong long-range radiation and with a half-life of over a billion years. Milk naturally contains about 2000 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) of potassium-40 (Argonne National Lab Human Health Fact Sheet, 8/05).
Tritium, on the other hand, is a radioactive nuclide of hydrogen and is sometimes referred to as “hydrogen-3”. Tritium emits very weak short-range radiation. Because potassium-40 emits more potent radiation, its radiation dose to a person is about 300 times higher than tritium’s radiation dose when the same number of picocuries is ingested (EPA, Federal Guidance Report #11). Thus, milk gives a radiation dose equivalent to water containing 600,000 pCi/l of tritium when ingested. This number is attained by multiplying the 2000 above by 300.
The tritium concentration in VY groundwater samples has generally been much lower than 600,000 pCi/l. Most of the recent data from VY test wells finds tritium in the range of 1000 to 150,000 pCi/l, with a maximum of 442,149 pCi/l. (Should higher tritium readings be found, the relative radiation dose of groundwater to milk is proportional to the tritium pCi/l versus the above 600,000 pCi/l tritium dose equivalent.)
Therefore, drinking a glass of milk will give you a higher radiation dose than drinking a glass of groundwater from VY. But not to worry - the dose from either is miniscule and you should not be concerned about drinking milk. This comparison just shows that the tritium in VY groundwater is benign, except to individuals that believe that milk is hazardous.
I am a Chemical Engineer and a Nuclear Engineer.


You know milk doesn't matter.

Say it slowly ...the plant ISN"T supposed to leak!
What part of that is so hard understand?
Whether it is shut down tomorrow OR stays open from now until the year 3,000 The plant isn't supposed to leak !
Don't assume I want it closed but do assume if you will that I don't want it to leak.

I don't want it to leak either, I also don't want the pipes under the house on the corner of South Willard and Pearl to leak. At the end of the day neither really matter though. Pipes leak, life happens, wear a helmet

Pipes leak wear a helmet.
Bye now.

"Say it slowly ...the plant ISN"T supposed to leak!
What part of that is so hard understand?
Whether it is shut down tomorrow OR stays open from now until the year 3,000 The plant isn't supposed to leak !"

Um, tits and penises aren't supposed to leak, either. But sometimes they do. And it doesn't matter. Nobody gets hurt.

Shall we shut down the human race because tits and penises leak? Shall we kill all people over 40 because sometimes their tits and penises leak, even though it doesn't hurt anybody?

Ah, yes. "A contract is a contract" says Gov. Shumlin and the other VY opponents when it comes to the 2002 agreement that gives the state some say over whether VY can continue to operate after 2012.

But a contract is NOT a contract says Gov. Shumlin when it comes to that part of the 2002 agreement that allows VY to use the SafeStore method after shutting down . . .

Mr. Schmidt’s essential point, which I take to be that tritium is one of the least hazardous of all radioisotopes, is of course valid.

Regardless, there is a red herring in that glass of milk. The issue before Vermont is not whether VT Yankee is, or will be in any foreseeable future, killing people with tritium (it isn’t and no informed person involved with this issue, so far as I know, has said that it has). The issue is whether VY merits relicensure for another 20 full years. To that question, these leaks are pertinent. The management culture at the plant, reflected partly in false statements about underground pipes delivered repeatedly to the State -- statements reflecting, at the very least, a hair-raising degree of ignorance about the plant’s physical assets -- is defective, as concluded by the Public Oversight Panel: “This organization-wide breakdown appears to indicate that the cultural norms that allowed personnel to perpetuate misstatements for 12-months are endemic throughout the Vermont Yankee organization.” ( ).

By the way, with multiple failsafe nuclear systems failing rapidly in Japan as I type these words, it may not be thought completely ridiculous to quote the Public Oversight Panel’s observation that “while the audit team found VY systems are designed to seismic criteria, the seismic criteria for new plants would assume a higher earthquake acceleration level." In other words, VY is built to weaker seismic criteria than would have applied to more modern nuclear construction. Also of interest, the Northeast States Emergency Consortium states that “the Northeast has experienced damaging earthquakes in the past and they will occur again in the future” (

Larry Gilman, PhD (Engineering Sciences)

Vermont Yankee should be shut down next year, per its original schedule. If decommissioning starts promptly (as it did with Maine Yankee in the 1990s), as opposed to a generation or so of SAFSTOR delay, many of its workers will be hired back for the job and have employment at the plant for years to come -- again, Maine Yankee’s experience ( ) .

Those who squawk about Vermont Yankee jobs but plump for SAFSTOR in the event of a 2012 shutdown are in a gross state of self-contradiction. IF there is shutdown, the best jobs scenario for plant workers is a smooth transition to decommissioning.

But Entergy is a large corporation. It’s about money. It jerks our tears for the poor workers when that suits its bottom line -- and jettisons those same workers when it doesn’t. That’s just what corporations do.


Larry Gilman

"and jettisons those same workers when it doesn’t."

When has VY "jettisoned" its workers?

The ONLY parties who have shown disregard for the workers are Shumlin and the shut-it-down-now crowd.


My argument, made clearly in my previous statement, is not that ENVY LLC "has jettisoned" workers already -- no duh -- but that moving smoothly into decommissioning (the DECON option as defined by the NRC) would keep the maximum number of VY workers employed in the near term following shutdown. SAFSTOR, in contrast, postpones the major work for up to 60 years. Using current staff to perform immediate DECON would, therefore, provide the softest possible landing for employees, while SAFSTOR would entail "jettisoning" the maximum number of employees as quickly as possible.

If there's something wrong with those facts or that logic, I hope you will spell it out: if my thinking is flawed on this point, I am eager to correct it. But I won't be spending my time reading or replying to rhetoric that doesn't make a serious and specific argument.

Entergy has not, so far as I know, ever pretended that it wants SAFSTOR for other than fiscal motives; its concern is for its bottom line, not for the employment of workers. In this, it is not unusually selfish or unconcerned. It is only normally selfish and unconcerned, for a large corporation.

By the way, I think it's relevant to note that the employment future of workers at Fukushima Daiichi power station in Japan is looking a little bleak right now, as well as that, perhaps, of some of the 170,000+ people who lived and worked in the evacuation zone. The comparison is not farfetched: most of the Daiichi reactors are the same design and vintage as Vermont Yankee (the General Electric BWR-4), except that the Japanese plant was built to a more robust seismic standard.

Of course, it can't happen here.

That was Tokyo Electric Company's official position until March 11, 2011.

You made the allegation that "Entergy . . . jettisons . . . workers." You used the present tense. You made a present tense accusation. You did not say, it is my belief that Entergy will jettison workers, or hopes to jettison workers. You said that it "jettisons" workers.

That is bull**** rhetoric by an anti-corporate hysteric.

And I'll repeat again: the safestor method of decommissioning is specifically allowed in the 2002 MOU with the State. The same MOU that gives the PSB (NOT the legislature, by the way) the right to decide relicensing. If you don't want to live by the contract with regard to safestor, then you can't attempt to enforce that same contract with respect to the State's veto power over relicensure.

"If there's something wrong with those facts or that logic, I hope you will spell it out:"

The wrong is the assumption/proposition that VY won't continue with safstor. Pretty sure that's not an option, unless ENVY decides it, which as you note doesn't make fiscal sense.... soooooo..... it's a pretty much a moot point.


I note (1) that you refuse to address my argument about what would provide the softest landing jobwise for VY workers in the event of 2012 shutdown (SAFSTOR vs. DECON), (2) that you have lost your temper and are resorting to name-calling and playground language, (3) that you have no comment on the fact that VY is technically almost identical to the reactors now melting down in Japan, and (4) that you take refuge in grammar quibbling and quote mining to deny the plain sense of what I said, which was a clearly conditional statement ("and jettisons those same workers when it doesn’t [suit its bottom line]," i.e., upon 2012 closure of the plant, as context made clear. As for present tenses, Entergy is advocating _now_ for SAFSTOR -- as are you -- and thus for the jettisoning of as many VY workers as possible, as quickly as possible, in the event of a 2012 closure.

I feel fine letting readers, if any, judge who is being hysterical at this point. I also feel fine letting you have the last word, because I always terminate exchanges with spittle-spraying Internet warriors who think that "bull****" is a term of art.

Mr. Schmidt sounded like a rational human being. If he would care to kick some reasoned butt on my points, I would be glad to hear him out and to respond respectfully.

But Hypocrisyalert, as of now, has forfeited the courtesy of further reply.


Larry Gilman

Jcarter writes, "The wrong is the assumption/proposition that VY won't continue with safstor. Pretty sure that's not an option, unless ENVY decides it, which as you note doesn't make fiscal sense.... soooooo..... it's a pretty much a moot point."

Thank you for your response. But I don't understand what you're saying, so you may need to rephrase. It sounds like you're saying that I assume/propose that "VY won't continue with SAFSTOR." However, I thought I was assuming/proposing almost the exact opposite, namely that VY wants to go the SAFSTOR route if it must close VY in 2012. (I don't know what it intends about "continuing" SAFSTOR once it has started -- that seems a given, since the whole point of SAFSTOR is that it's long-term.) Which would allow the quickest suppression of short-term costs (e.g., by firing workers) and deferment of major cleanup for, potentially, many decades. Which I'm saying _would_ make fiscal sense for them, which is why they want to do it.

So -- I'm not sure what point is moot? Hasn't ENVY LLC already said that it wants to go the SAFSTOR route? The plant either gets decommissioned in the near term or the long term -- and that's a real non-moot issue, right?

I don't mean to be rude, just to press for clarification. It is always best when these exchanges can be kept civil.


Larry Gilman

@ Gilman

First, I do not address the other issues because I never intended to speak on those issues. You raised them, I didn't. They may or may not be valid issues. My only concern here has been the hypocrisy that the Governor wants to enforce the 2002 MOU when it comes to attempting to assert state control over the relicensing decision, but when he found out that that same MOU allows VY to use safestor, he says Entergy shouldn't be allowed to rely on that method.

Then you chimed in with the notion that Entergy should be shut down in 2012, but engage in immediate decommissioning just to be nice. Sorry, that's just vapid.

You haven't explained why a for-profit company should spend money now vs. later when it has no need or legal obligation to do so. For-profit corporations -- which, last time I checked are both legal and the standard way we do business in the US, including owning and operating power plants -- are not in the business of giving their money away. Certainly not $600 million or so. If you want to have the state run the power system in the US, that's fine and debatable, but that's not the system that we have now and you're talking like a private, for-profit company should just act like it is a branch of the state because spending money now vs. later would be a "nice" thing to do.

You also don't bother addressing the issue of how Entergy should pay for immediate decommissioning when the decommissioning fund, specifically established and sanctioned by the state for that purpose, would need time to grow, which is why safestor was allowed as a method in the 2002 MOU. The state never required that that fund had to have enough money in it by 2012 to begin immediate decommissioning at that time. It could have made that a requirement, but it didn't. Of course, if the plant is allowed to continue operating, that will not only postpone the need for immediate decommissioning, but also allow the fund to build up more rapidly with continuing capital input.

You also don't address why Entergy should just voluntarily ignore and depart from the 2002 MOU, which says safestor, not immediate decommissioning. You seem to be suggesting that Entergy should opt for immediate decommissioning just as a matter of corporate goodwill. You seem to be advocating that, even though it currently would have absolutely no legal requirement to spend the money now as opposed to later, it should just do that as a friendly donation. Sorry, but that is nonsensical.

And as for your point about name-calling, you started this debate with this: "But Entergy is a large corporation. It’s about money. It jerks our tears for the poor workers when that suits its bottom line -- and jettisons those same workers when it doesn’t. That’s just what corporations do."

So, it's okay for you to throw stones at corporations in general and Entergy in particular, but not okay for someone to call you an anti-corporate hysteric?

Sorry if you don't like to hear it.

Larry Gilman,

I will rephrase, the issue is that yes ENVY wants to put off decommissioning VY. As such the issue of workers being used for decommissioning is moot as ENVY isn't going to agree to decommission immediately. The reason I say it is moot, is because I am unaware of anyway to 'force' them to decommission currently. I'm not even sure the state can "force" them to shut down let alone dictate the steps and time table for decommissioning.


That makes sense, thank you for re-stating.

Your agnosticism about outcomes is wise. I agree that it's uncertain what the state of VT will, in the end, be able to require ENVY to do. We shall see.



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