The Long Goodbye at VY

Seems like it’s about time we check in on Vermont Yankee again.  Entergy is reporting that VY is ramping down for it’s final curtain at the start of 2015, but at 90% of capacity, it’s still working considerably harder than it was designed to do.

Remember, as nuclear economics began to go south, it wasn’t long ago that Entergy asked for and received permission to exceed that designed-for capacity.

These are the same guys who have once more appealed to the NRC for relief from some required emergency planning soon after the reactor shuts down.  This time the NRC is not being quite so accommodating, calling attention to misrepresentationsin Entergy’s filing.

The NRC staff said Entergy was “inaccurate” when it claimed that there were no accidents “that would result in dose consequences that are large enough to require off-site emergency planning.”

And the staff also said Entergy “inaccurately” stated the analysis of the potential radiological impact of an accident once the plant’s fuel is removed from the reactor core, or “defueled.”

Of course, it all comes down to dollars and cents and Entergy could save a bundle if excused from this responsibility,  but as critics have pointed out time and again, breach of the spent fuel pool though unlikely to occur, is far from impossible.

The NRC appears ready to acknowledge that, if the worst were to happen, there could be a release of radioactive material necessitating emergency response, possibly including evacuation of the affected region.

There is more than one way for an emergency situation to be triggered at the dormant site.  The NRC has already approved a “certified fuel handler program” for VY, so that a second storage pad can be built and fuel moved from the spent fuel pool into dry cask storage.

There are attendant risks even to that move, as the dry casks, when fully loaded weigh as much as 40 tons. They must be lifted, lowered by crane into the spent fuel pool in order to be filled and sealed; then raised again.

This is a complex operation and any failure of mechanical and human coordination might drop all that weight onto the fuel assemblies, damaging them in the spent fuel pool and triggering disaster.

Entergy’s cost cutting initiatives elsewhere are being criticized, as well.  Lax security has raised concern at Pilgrim in Massachusetts; and failure to replace an aging cooling system condenser at the FitzPatrick plant in Scribna, NY may have exposed workers to excess radiation.

We all remember the collapsing cooling tower and tritium leaks from “non-existent” pipes that punctuated VY’s latter years, so we are not strangers to Entergy’s safety fictions.

The NRC says it is “reviewing the petitions” of concern groups about safety issues surrounding the three Entergy facilities, but if it’s past record is anything to go by, we must expect that the agency will bend over backwards to accommodate corporate interest.

Meanwhile, Entergy’s unsurprising choice of “SAFSTOR” for Vermont Yankee means that clean-up of the site could take as much as 60 years.  By then, the cost of clean-up, now estimated at $1.24 billion could rise considerably and it seems highly unlikely that Entergy will pony up more than a fraction of that amount no matter how fortunate the investment landscape might remain in the interim.  

Even after sixty years, if (as seems increasingly likely) no permanent national storage site has been agreed upon and constructed, those two pads stacked with dry casks could stick around for much, much longer.  So long, in fact, that the need to move the fuel assemblies into new casks may become necessary, a task for which no protocols have yet been considered.

Think about that while you eat your morning cornflakes and look at your children and grandchildren across the table.  

All that, just to keep the lights burning and the air-conditioning on high for a mere forty years.

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As always, even though I am pleased to be involved with Fairewinds Energy Education in a non-technical capacity, my diaries on GMD reflect my own personal views and not those of Fairewinds.

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.

One thought on “The Long Goodbye at VY

  1. “This is a complex operation and any failure of mechanical and human coordination might drop all that weight onto the fuel assemblies, damaging them in the spent fuel pool and triggering disaster.”  

    That’s just what almost happened a few years ago when the brakes on the crane lifting the cask failed.  Fortunately, the cask dropped slowly and was already near the floor.

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