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November 07, 2010

Vermont Yankee Shuts Down to Fix (Another) Leak

9-9-2009 toon grey cropped * updated below *

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power station began an unscheduled shutdown Sunday night after engineers found a new leak in a key system pipe at the Vernon reactor.

The plant shutdown began at roughly 7 p.m., said Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman Larry Smith, after plant operators has earlier identified leakage of approximately 60 drops per minute from a feedwater pipe located in the plant's turbine building.

Technicians and engineers later located the leak in the feedwater system piping.

VY previously repaired a leak in a feedwater pipe in August 2009. That one leaked about two cups per minute.

"The leak is in a 24-inch pipe located by the feed water pumps in the plant’s turbine building," Smith told Seven Days. The feed water system is not a safety system, Smith notes. It returns water to the reactor from the plant's turbines — but at high pressure and high temperatures.

The leaking pipe is 24 inches in diameter and cannot be repaired with the plant in operation, Smith said. Therefore, a conservative decision was made to take the plant out of service to perform a repair.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Resident Inspector has been informed of the issue and of the plan to remove the station from service. The plant had been operating at reduced power for a scheduled rod pattern adjustment and to support line work by Public Service Company of New Hampshire. The plant had been on line for 163 days of continuous operation, Smith added.

Regional NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told Seven Days that the senior resident inspector was on his way to VY to observe the plant shutdown.

"The leakage is on a feedwater line downstream of the reactor. It is considered non-safety related," Sheehan said.

The new leak comes at an inopportune time for Vermont Yankee's owner Entergy. The company announced last week it was trying to put the reactor up for sale. The reactor's license expires in 2012 and some VY critics see the sale as a last-ditch attempt to keep the plant operating beyond its scheduled operating date.

Entergy has lost the trust of many in Vermont, as well as some key political leaders — including Governor-elect Peter Shumlin, the Democrat who led the charge earlier this year to force a vote in the state Senate on VY's future. By a 26-4 vote, Senators decided that it was not in the best interest of the state to allow Vermont Yankee to continue operating beyond 2012.

The news also comes just two weeks after another leak was discovered. That leak, in a safety-related pipe, was not serious enough to warrant a shutdown. It had been found in late September, but was only made public in late October after members of the media made inquiries.

Earlier in October, the Vermont Department of Health revealed that tritium had been found in an on-site drinking water well. Previously, tritium had only been found in groundwater.


* update - Monday 8 p.m. *

Vermont Yankee officials have found, and isolated, the source of the leak in the 24-inch water pipe that caused the plant to shut down.

"Repair work to a leak on a 24 inch feed water pipe is scheduled to begin this evening. The leak, which was identified late Saturday by plant operators, was found to be coming from a two-inch access plug in the pipe located in the feed pump room of the plant," said VY spokesman Larry Smith in an email to media.

The access plug was used for radiography of pipe welds during original construction of the plant. Technicians will replace the seal weld with a more substantial fillet weld to the plug. Repairs will take approximately 24 hours to complete at which time the plant will be restarted, noted Smith.

A similar plug was the source of a leak in the feedwater system in early 2009. The feedwater system carries slighty radioactive water in a closed-loop system between the turbines and the plant's reactor. Water travels through at very high temperature and pressure.

The faulty plug is approximately a half-inch in size inside a two-inch port, added Neil Sheehan, a regional NRC spokesman. Both the port and the plug are welded into the piping.

"Workers had to remove insulation wrapped around the line to get at this. What initially appeared to be a roughly three-inch flaw was actually this port, or opening," said Sheehan.

"This house has quite a long and colorful history. It was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and was the setting of Satanic rituals, witch-burnings, and five John Denver Christmas specials. "

-Montgomery Burns.

I haven't dug back through the archive to check this, but your article lists two different measurements for leaks. The latest is evidently measured in drops, the last was measured in cups? Every time there's a leak do we get a new measurement type? Have we been through teaspoons and tablespoons yet?

I propose the O'Brien. It is a measurement, named after the Vermont Chairman of the Dept. of Public Service. He seems to be their biggest defender on WCAX-TV. Who does he work for again?

Seems to me he works for the people of Vermont, not the anti-nuke hysterics.

The people of Vermont, through their representatives have said they don't want Yankee relicensed.
Mr. O'Brien needs to get with the program.

"The people of Vermont, through their representatives have said they don't want Yankee relicensed."

Um, not really. Only one chamber actually voted. The small one. The less representative one, actually. The vote was 26 to 4. So out of 650,000 citizens, 26 people voted not to relicense. Wow! A landslide! A mandate!

Second, I would reiterate that O'Brien's job is to do what's in the best interest of the state, not what 26 partisan political hacks want. That vote was manufactured specifically for Sen. Shumlin's future gubernatorial campaign. Period. If I were O'Brien, I wouldn't consider that vote as indicative of anything.

Spin it any way you want it, Mr. Webber. O'Brien walks and talks like he's employed by Entergy. Entergy. A leak a day. That's all we ask.

"O'Brien walks and talks like he's employed by Entergy."

Gee, could that be because you have a particular point of view, cast in stone and unchangeable, and anything that doesn't conform to it means that everyone else -- including engineers, scientists, and 650 employees -- is wrong and biased?

Gee, is anyone who contradicts your opinion "employed by Entergy"?

Gee, should I conclude that because you're a critic of VY that "you walk and talk like you're employed by VPIRG"?

Gee, howbout you try to step outside your own biased mindset just for one teensy weensy second and consider the possibility that maybe you aren't 100%, infallibly correct and that rational people might legitimately have a very different opinion from yours on VY?

Gee, howbout you try to step outside your own biased mindset just for one teensy weensy second and consider the possibility that maybe you aren't 100%, infallibly correct and that rational people might legitimately have a very different opinion from yours on VY?

right back at ya Webber.

It was not partisan. Republicans and Democrats voted to retire VY as scheduled.

Its not one chamber or just 26 people. Its 26 people that represent more than 90% of Vermont's population and which by the way were re-elected by those people. Only one Senator that voted to retire the aging plant and stood for re-election was defeated on November 2nd.

If you don't like the values that our representative democracy stands for I suggest you move to China. I'm sure you are one of the first people to always argue about what our founding fathers wanted and all, blah, blah blah... You do recognize that the government structure you just belittled is the exact one our founding fathers had so much faith in? Right?

Mr. Obrien had a Christmas dinner at his home with Entergy officials. So I think there is a little more evidence that he is working for Entergy then you care to admit to.

And lastly Mr. Webber, please just stop confusing the belief that closing VY is the right thing to do with being anti-Nuke. If you can't see a difference between a plant that has a leak a day and new plant you are a bigger idiot than you even appear to be.

"It was not partisan. Republicans and Democrats voted to retire VY as scheduled."

That's a good one! The Senate consisted at the time of 23 Dems and 7 Repubs.

The fact that 3 Repubs crossed over under pressure from the Pro Tem hardly makes it a "non-partisan" vote. If a few Dems had gone the other way, I might agree with you that it was non-partisan. But that's not what happened.

And the vote would never have taken place at all if gubernatorial wannabe Shumlin hadn't raised the issue and forced the vote because he wanted to run for Gov. That ain't representative democracy. It was crass power politics.

You seem to forget that, as part of our representative democracy, we have this independent body called the PSB that has both the jurisdiction, and the expertise, to decide these matters. Your elected legislators created it and gave it the very authority you now don't want it to have.

And, by the way, based on your last sentence, are you advocating for putting a brand new plant on that site? I'm with ya on that. Or are you just including that remark to look reasonable? Please tell us.

FWIW the nays on that vote were 2 D 2 R.

Couple of things I'm curious about, only one of which can be answered right now:

- The requirement that the Senate (actually the PSB, but that will be a legal argument) approve relicensure came about in a 2006 agreement by Entergy - does this agreement automatically bind a new owner?

- Obviously this will come down to Fed pre-emption. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out. Anyone who thinks that this will be decided within the State of Vermont is kidding themselves.

Jimmy: You are correct, federal preemption is certainly at play in this debate, despite what VY opponents claim. Before the 26-4 vote in the Senate, Seven Days put together a package of stories about VT Yankee. One of them focused on the issue of federal preemption. A VT Law School prof & an NRC spokesman clearly believe Entergy would have a strong case against the state.

Here's a link to the orginal:

The scenario wherein Entergy is no longer the owner of VY is new enough that I haven't seen it addressed WRT the 2006 agreement. I wouldn't be surprised if it does not bind the new owner, which would render the Senate vote moot.

"FWIW the nays on that vote were 2 D 2 R."

Mea Culpa.

I just realized that I missed a golden opportunity to say "the nays on that vote were R2D2."

Any time a company with a questionable track record of safety starts running ad campaigns designed to brain wash people of the surrounding area, it reminds me of all of those movies about how the towns people of some mid-west town were talked into allowing this thing and slowly everyone they knew were getting sick, having birth defects, bleeding from their ears.....

Once they need to let everyone know they're safe - and they're spending their own money on it - odds are they're not.

I dont care where my power comes from, but it must be safe and as clean as it can be. If VY has reached its end of life, and Nuke power is still where its at - build another plant. Don't subject the ground and the citizens on it to another 20 years of patchwork fixes and contamination.

@ Amazed At This Post:

I find your post ironic. You talk about attempted brainwashing. Maybe you've come to the misguided conclusion you have -- that VY needs to advertise its safety, and therefore it must be unsafe -- because you've been brainwashed by the anti-VY hysterics. Have you never heard of people or companies having to run PR campaigns because of false information that has been circulated about them?

VY wouldn't have to try to "brainwash" you if VPIRG and the anti-nuke hysterics, as well as Shumlin's cynical use of VY-bashing as a personal career-enhancer, hadn't started the brainwashing campaign in the other direction.

I also think it's a little distrubingly cynical of you to assume that 650 of your fellow Vermont citizens (i.e., the VY employees who are telling you that VY is safe) are just mindless robots who can't think for themselves. Do you really believe that the engineers and technicians who actually run the plant (and who have WAY more information than you and I do) would willingly live near a plant, and spend all day inside it, and appear in VY commercials, when they think something bad could happen? Your belief not only assumes they are amazingly cynical, but more fundamentally that they are simply all fools.

I can't accept that view.

Point of fact:

Though there are 650 people employed by Entergy at the Vermont Yankee plant, 200 live in Vermont.


So, f___ those 200 hundred, eh?

And do not some or all of the other 450 shop in, pay taxes to, and otherwise contribute to the economy of VT? And even if they didn't, f___ them because they don't live in VT?

I just love your Democrat style, bro.

My "style" is to treat other people with respect, even if we disagree.

In my post (above) my only intent was to clarify the facts of the issue. I've heard a lot of people say that 650 Vermonters work at the Entergy plant. That isn't true.

I feel that all sides benefit when false information is corrected, and verifiable facts are used as the basis of discussion.

"I feel that all sides benefit when false information is corrected, and verifiable facts are used as the basis of discussion."

Good point. But that has rarely been the case among the hate-VY crowd. The discussion has been based on the absence of science or engineering knowledge; fear; group hysteria; intentional scapegoating (intentionally referring to Entergy as "Entergy Louisiana," to cite just one example); and political opportunism. How many grannies with protest signs or young VPIRG canvassing-robots even know that VY is a boiling water generator? Few, if any, I'll wager.

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