Vermont Yankee springs a leak

Entergy and the NRC are downplaying yet another radioactive leak at Vermont Yankee that occurred last weekend but is only now reaching the press>

The loss of 2,700 gallons of “mildly ” radioactive waste water Sunday from the pool, which holds thousands of Yankee’s old, highly radioactive fuel rods, was caught in a radioactive waste tank, according to Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams.

The incident is being blamed on procedural error on the part of an employee.  Though Williams would not say if the employee is new to the job, the procedural error, which involved the misalignment of valves, suggests that the employee who made the error may have been lacking in experience and supervision.  

Water drained from the pool for thirty minutes before the problem was discovered.  What might have happened had the leak remained undetected and the 300,000-gallon tank continued to drain for hours is very troubling indeed!

That Entergy does not seem to fully appreciate this potential is betrayed by Mr. Williams characterization of the water as “mildly” radioactive.  Is that anything like being a little bit pregnant?

Susan Smallheer of the Rutland Herald quotes Fairewinds Assoc. Arnie Gundersen as saying the mistake was not insignificant.

“That’s a gross procedural breakdown,” said Gundersen, who said the Public Oversight Panel had been very concerned about similar employee errors as the experienced staff at Yankee leave or retire.

And, while we’re on the subject, I took a look at Meredith Angwyn’s fanpage for Vermont Yankee, Yes VY,  and besides a rather personal screed against Mr. Gundersen, I found her complaining about the very nerve of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel to be asking Entergy whether it was making changes in light of lessons learned at Fukushima.  

She seems to be under the impression that, even though Vermont Yankee continues to operate on Vermont soil, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s preemption on safety issues extends so far as to mean the state can’t even ask questions about safety.  

What is the concern here?  That the people of Vermont might actually learn something about how prepared or unprepared VY is for an emergency?

Ms. Angwyn’s railing that the State Nuclear Advisory Panel should not even discuss safety issues is reminiscent of the idiot legislature of North Carolina which is considering  prohibiting government agencies from even considering the potential three-foot rise in sea level, due to climate change, over the remainder of the century.  

Does she think that just by talking about safety concerns, the Advisory Panel is affecting VY’s operating license?

If she is suggesting that the state doesn’t even have the right to think about evacuation concerns and other possible collateral safety issues in the event of a disaster at VY,  she has lost all grip on reality.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

9 thoughts on “Vermont Yankee springs a leak

  1. This reminds me of the old Simpsons episode where the comet is headed right for Springfield.  At the end of the show he townspeople tear down the astronomy observatory that discovered the comet so that this could never happen again!

    If the NRC doesn’t DO anything about safety, then everything will always be safe!  Nothing can ever go wrong at VY because the NRC and Entergy says so.

    So the spent fuel pool sprung a leak, big deal.  Nothing could ever happen if the pool were to be completely emptied because, unlike Japan, it could never happen here.

  2. Is this anti nuke hype, or did someone just read too fast?  The Pool didn’t spring a leak. Water was drained by mistake to a normal catch tank. Apparently the valve lineup error was in the filtering and demineralizing system for the pool water, which is located in the Radwaste building.

    Mistakes are normal in everything involving humans. Designs and administrtive systems plan for mistakes, and for applying lessons learned. Ever hear of the National Transportaion Safety Board, for example?

    Demanding perfection is a political tactic.  Try applying perfection to planes or cars!!

    The crack about a little bit radioactive is an attempt to continue the myth that there is such a thing as no radioactive exposure.  The sun is a reactor. Sunshine is radioactivity.  Bananas are radioactive.  Its the amount, kind and where it is that determines safety.

  3. The Pool was designed so it can’t drain and expose used fuel.  No pipes go to the bottom, or deep enough to cause high radiation, let alone uncover fuel.  

    Consideration was given to inadvertant pool draining. Even if pipes that would siphon water from the pool break, in the fuel pool system that cirulates water through a filtering, demineralizing, and cooling system, a signifigant amount of water won’t be lost. This is also true if valves in the filter backwash system fail or a misaligned.  The water then goes to the normal drain tank.

  4. A better title might be:

    The Continued Operation of Vermont Yankee: What’ll We Get Out of It?

    At least if one is looking for a suitable double-entendre, since, apparently this week we got radioactive water out of it, and then there was that whole tritium thing a couple years back, and “a little softening of the wood” leading to rather a lot of water from a cooling tower, and occasional steam, and those missing fuel rods, and … oh yes, boatloads of dishonesty and obfuscation about the state of the plant and its operation.

    Looks like we get a LOT out of VT Yankee, though given its penchant for being down-powered or shut down over the years, electricity may not be the thing we get most.  

  5. Should have said: “Spent fuel pool drain valve left open.”

    At the same time, it is a VERY SERIOUS error to have left that particular drain open, since if left open, it could have resulted in those spent fuel rods being exposed. This, at the very least could have resulted in the release of gamma radiation, and in the worst case, could have led to exactly the kind of explosion, melting, and widespread radiation release that is causing so much trouble in Japan.

    While it’s no joking matter, it’s also not to be dismissed lightly as hype.

    As for radiation – radiation damage is cumulative. You are supposed to avoid exposure to it. That’s why we no longer x-ray people’s feet as part of shoe-fitting. Adding more to the environment is a bad thing – even if it’s only a small amount. In addition, it’s not so much the “amount” of radioactivity that’s important (though more is always worse), it’s the type that matters.

    Your clothing will shield you from Alpha particles, but you’re going to be absorbing something that’ll mess with your DNA if you’re being hit by even small doses of Gamma waves. To focus on volume of radiation to the exclusion of type is disingenuous at best.

    It’s good that it didn’t escape the plant, and it’s good that the error was caught and corrected, but this is just one more instance of Entergy proving that it cannot be trusted to operate a power plant that requires excruciating attention to detail at every single moment.

  6. Nevertheless, this was a procedural error of the sort that has been a concern in the past, and continues to cast serious doubt on the culture of Entergy as a whole, and Vermont Yankee specifically..

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