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March 30, 2010

Vermont Yankee: More Tritium! More Meetings!

NRC ** Updated below with letter from Congressional delegation**

Entergy announced with great fanfare last week that its tritium leaks were plugged and, ostensibly, under control.

Or, maybe not.

Yesterday, the Vermont Health Department noted it detected tritium in a deeply drilled test well that was heretofore clean of the radioactive isotope.

To be sure, the level they found — 1000 picocuries — is pretty minimal compared to the ongoing higher levels found in wells closer to the contamination.

"This new result from Vermont Yankee’s analysis is unexpected, because [the contaminated well] is adjacent to its companion shallow well, which continues to test negative for tritium and remains uncontaminated," the department noted.

Entergy is beginning to pump out promotional ads acknowledging that it had misled Vermonters and, well, it was sorry.

Nothing like the time they forgot to monitor dry casks for radiation, or when everything was hunky-dory with the cooling tower inspection program, or its program to check for corroding pipes, or … oh, never mind.

I guess everyone has to start somewhere when they try to make amends.

It does appear as if the public may be getting closer to reading the internal review conducted by the “independent” law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius. The report's findings led Entergy to put some administrators on leave, one of them permanently reassigned.

The firm is not so independent, as it represents Entergy in its effort to relicense its Indian Point nuclear reactor in New York, and has even represented the Louisiana-based energy company in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy for its failure to find a place to dump high-level radioactive waste — specifically, the waste at Vermont Yankee.

To date, the report has remained a secret in Vermont regulatory circles, despite promises in January it would be released publicly.

The report was completed several weeks ago, and its results released the day of the state Senate vote on Vermont Yankee's relicensure.

Only Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who is conducting a criminal investigation into Entergy’s lies, has seen the report. The report is covered by a confidentiality agreement signed by Sorrell, so he refuses to release it publicly.

Why?

“They requested the confidentiality agreement in return for not fighting us on turning over documents [and] making potential witnesses available to us,” Sorrell told Seven Days.

Sorrell said his review will take months to complete; to date he’s received 15,000 pages of documents, with more to come.

Entergy last week told the Vermont Public Service Board that it would turn over the report, but did not want that to indicate it was willing to waive its attorney-client privilege on anything else at this time. A report in the Rutland Herald over the weekend mischaracterized Entergy's request before the PSB, company officials claimed.

"Despite interpretations to the contrary, the purpose of the motion was not to conceal information but to make it public," said Entergy spokesman Larry Smith. "The company's motion before the Public Service Board simply defines the conditions for providing the full report by an outside law firm to the public without waiving the attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product privilege with respect to anything else."

Seems like the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission could learn something about openness from ... Entergy.

Seriously?

The feds this week fessed up to planning a daylong “government-to-government” meeting at a country club in New Hampshire to talk “openly” about Vermont Yankee and the tritium leak and investigation with elected officials from communities within 10 miles of the nuke plant.

Talk "openly" because neither the public (i.e., rabble) nor the press would be in the room.

Word of the April 14 meeting first surfaced on the liberal blog Green Mountain Daily, which posted a copy of a private invitation that went out to public officials. They later posted the recording of a phone call with an NRC staffer explaining the reason behind the meeting and that it is not open to the general public.

Fun stuff.

The NRC confirmed the private meeting to Seven Days claiming these closed-door sessions do wonders to “educate” elected officials.

“It is an informal briefing by NRC staff for state, county and local officials on issues related to our oversight of Vermont Yankee. We have held government-to-government meetings for state, county and local officials in the past involving numerous other nuclear power plants," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for NRC’s Region 1 office. "The participating officials have told us they have found them to be of value in enhancing their knowledge of plant issues and our oversight activities.

“Further, there are times when security-related information is discussed during these meetings," added Sheehan. "With the meeting closed, it allows for the discussion of topics in this area.”

Sheehan said Entergy officials will not be at the New Hampshire meeting.

But, all is not lost: A separate, public briefing by the NRC is being staged for the rest of us on April 12 from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Ramada Inn in Brattleboro. The chief topic will be to "answer the public's questions concerning tritium, and to provide a perspective on the potential public health risk."

The meeting will also let the public know about the regulatory requirements relating to tritium and the NRC "will listen to and respond to concerns from the public concerning the tritium issue at Vermont Yankee."

I'm sure they will get an earful.

The NRC says Entergy will be hosting its own public meeting on VY, too, at the Ramada. Entergy's Smith said the utility will have its tritium inspection team on hand to show the public how it found, and stopped, the leak, and what it's doing to prevent further leaks.

On April 13, the NRC is allowing the press to sit in on a meeting with Entergy officials about its “safety culture survey” at the company’s northeastern plants, including VY.

Riveting stuff.

** Update **

Vermont's congressional delegation just issued a letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko asking him to reconsider its decision to hold the April 14 "government-to-government" meeting in secret.

Here's part of the letter:

We write to follow up on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s invitation to participate in a closed-door “Government-to-Government” meeting on April 14 in Keene, New Hampshire.

We are committed to open and transparent government and to honoring both the letter and spirit of Vermont's open meeting laws. Avoiding Vermont’s open meeting laws by holding this meeting in New Hampshire will only add to the growing public skepticism about the handling of oversight at Vermont Yankee, and could curtail participation from Vermont officials.
 
While we recognize that the discussion of information relating to security considerations often requires confidential briefings, the discussion of broader issues surrounding this facility is of great interest to Vermonters and is a discussion that should be conducted in a public setting.
 
We urge you to reconsider, and to hold the April 14 meeting in Vermont so that Vermont's federal, state and local officials can fully participate. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this request.

As the tritium flows north and floods Burlington Telecom we in Burlington sit and wait to see how Kiss and Leopold row us upstream in future debt to cover their misgivings.
Over the last two weeks Mayor Kiss as reverted to silent Bob again, which we know with BT is alarming.

Dave - with all sincerity, shut-up. This has NOTHING to do with BT. I understand completely why you are upset about BT but this is just ridiculous. Grow up and deal with the issue of BT like, at the very least, a pubescent teenager opposed to the 5 year old you are now.

Thank you Matthew, well said.

Entergy's ploy of hiring an "independent" law firm to conduct an internal investigation is an old trick that they have used many times to cover up their dirty deeds. The company routinely uses "independent" law firms to respond to discovery requests, and often provides information that is intentionally incomplete and disorganized. They have been fined twice by the VT Public Service Board for doing this. There are a lot of good men and women working at Vermont Yankee who mean well, but the corporate culture there is one of deception, obfuscation, and most of all: profits first over safety or the public good. Attorney-client privilege cannot hide the fact that top company officials have lied--at least by omission--under oath. Now the NRC has assigned a new on-site "regulator" at VY--a former Entergy employee who worked there just two years ago; NRC wants to hold secret meetings with public officials; and Entergy has reneged on its "promise" to go public with the results of its "internal" investigation. Actions like these demonstrate that neither the company nor its "regulator" can be trusted. The tritium leak is a red herring. The real issue is that we have a pack of liars running the most dangerous industrial operation in New England.

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