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June 18, 2009

Water Water Everywhere: VT Yankee Springs New Leak

Another week, another leak at Vermont's lone nuclear power plant.

This time the leak is in a pipe that draws in water from the Connecticut River and is funneled into Vermont Yankee's "service water" system.

A service water system in a nuke plant draws in water to keep its various pumps and physically hot equipment cool. However, the particular four-inch pipe in question that sprung a leak is only used for one purpose: To clean off the screens that catch river debris before water is sucked into the plant.

"This leak has no impact whatsoever on the plant's ability to operate, and we won't need to power down to fix it," VY spokesman Larry Smith told Seven Days. "The only time we use this is when the screens get clogged up and we have to backwash the screen."

Vermontyankee The plant washes down its screens every two to three weeks, depending on the amount of debris the screens capture, Smith said.

Federal regulators are monitoring Vermont Yankee's efforts to fix the leak. Vermont Yankee officials isolated the leak by closing the valve. The valve is temporarily opened to allow spraying of the screens.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's resident inspectors are following Entergy's activities to evaluate the pipe, determine the extent of condition of similar piping and plan a course of action.

"The system is still capable of functioning,"  said Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for NRC's Region 1 office. "There is no risk to the public."

Despite the safety-related function of the service water system, Screnci said this particular pipe's function is not a safety concern.

"The service water piping is safety-related. The travelling screen is not safety related," said Screnci. "So that section of piping, while safety related, is not performing a safety related function."

Got that? Good.

The leak comes just one week after Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin notified the Douglas administration that the legislature had hired nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen to keep tabs on Entergy's efforts to improve the overall reliability of the aging reactor.

Douglas officials said Gundersen's hire was not needed as they have it all under control. A VY spokesman called the additional oversight "unwarranted."

Ya know, that'd be an easy argument to make if the plant weren't spouting a leak as regular as Old Faithful. Just sayin'.

It's worth pointing out that the state is continually talking about cutting state employee jobs. Small potatoes when your hiring 1 and firing 600.

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