NRC: Windham County residents, you’re on your own!

Update/correction:  Contraleslie points out (in her comment below) that this is, in any case,  the decision of just the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the NRC, and will not necessarily be adopted by the entire Commission.

I guess I should be stunned by the decision of the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Entergy should be excused from the obligation to provide emergency monitoring at Vermont Yankee.

It is a measure of my lack of faith in the NRC that I am am, at most, confirmed in my cynicism.  

That the 2-1 vote was not unanimous is the one ray of hope on the horizon. Per the fire-walled Rutland Herald:

The majority said Vermont had not made a case for why Vermont Yankee should be treated differently from other nuclear power plants that are shut down and are not required to keep the emergency data system in place.

But the dissenting member, Richard Wardwell, said the other two members were misinterpreting the plain language about the issue of exemption, saying the law did apply to Vermont Yankee, operational or not. The exemption, Wardwell wrote in his dissent, applied to plants shut down before the requirement was put in place in 1990.

The state has maintained that enforced monitoring would be essential to community safety for as along as fuel remains in the spent fuel pool.

Entergy has always said it planned to move all of the fuel into dry cask storage “as soon as possible,” but I don’t believe there are any NRC rules mandating by what date the fuel must all be transferred to dry cask storage.

Spent fuel must remain in the pool for about five years, after which it is cool enough  to move to into dry storage. The casks are extremely costly themselves; even the cheaper design for which Entergy has opted.

This is in addition to the costs of creating onsite storage pads for the casks, since no permanent repository has been created, and the transfer process itself has attendant risks and costs.  

For all these reasons, reactor operators tend to delay the transfer as long as at all possible.  This has led to a situation of overcrowding in spent fuel pools all over the country.

Even if we take Entergy at its word (which has historically been unreliable),  the spent fuel will remain vulnerable in the pool for five more years.

No where are the fuel assemblies more vulnerable, in fact, than in the spent fuel pools built atop Mark 1 GE BWR reactors, such as the one at VY.

Built high above the reactor itself, if even a small breach in the pool occurs, simple gravity may lower the water level to a dangerous point rather rapidly. If electrical issues in the dormant facility compound the problem, remediation could conceivably fail.

Furthermore, positioned as it is beneath a relatively flimsy canopy of ceiling at the top at the reactor, the pool could be targeted by terrorists using all manner of aircraft, now including civilian drones.

These are, admittedly, unlikely scenarios, but don’t they seem more likely today than fifteen years ago?

What is amazing is that in this post 9/11 America, where we have been forced to surrender so much of our personal freedom for the sake of security, and few of the old rules seem to apply, the NRC can still insist on consistency with its own long standing policies that favor business interests over population safety concerns.

Nonetheless, based on Commissioner Wardwell’s comment, it sounds to me as if the State has pretty solid grounds for appeal, should the NRC agree with its Safety and Licensing Board.

(Please note: as always, this diary represents my own personal views and not necessarily those of Fairewinds Energy Education, where I am employed in a non-technical capacity.)

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.

4 thoughts on “NRC: Windham County residents, you’re on your own!

  1. I am pretty sure this is not the last word on the EPZ. That was the ASLB’s decision. It still appears to be alive before the NRC. In fact, yesterday the NRC extended the public comment period until February 9.

    The NRC gobbledy-gook about it is here, where you can comment using Sue’s excellent info. Be sure to add the Docket ID NRC-2014-0260 in the subject line.  

    https://federalregister.gov/a/

    If you want to know exactly what you are commenting on, good luck finding it. The NRC offers paragraphs about how to comment on the “license amendment” — without one line as to what the license amendment asks for or a link to it. Follow the links there are, and get dizzy coming back to the same info over and over. ADAMS decided not to work in my favor with its ML #s.

    The best I could do after a half hour of searching is this:

    Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC., and Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc., Docket No. 50-271, Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, Vernon, Vermont

    Date of amendment request: June 12, 2014. A publicly-available version is in ADAMS under Accession No. ML14168A302.

    Description of amendment request: The proposed amendment would revise the site emergency plan (SEP) and Emergency Action Level (EAL) scheme to reflect the reduced scope of offsite and onsite emergency planning and the significantly reduced spectrum of credible accidents that can occur for the permanently defueled condition.

    Basis for proposed no significant hazards consideration determination: As required by 10 CFR 50.91(a), the licensee has provided its analysis of the issue of no significant hazards consideration which is presented below:

    1. Does the proposed amendment involve a significant increase in the probability or consequences of an accident previously evaluated?

    Response: No.

    The proposed changes to the emergency plan and EAL scheme do not impact the function of plant structures, systems, or components (SSCs). The proposed changes do not affect accident initiators or precursors, nor does it alter design assumptions. The proposed changes do not prevent the ability of the on-shift staff and emergency response organization (ERO) to perform their intended functions to mitigate the consequences of any accident or event that will be credible in the permanently defueled condition.

    The probability of occurrence of previously evaluated accidents is not increased, since most previously analyzed accidents can no longer occur and the probability of the few remaining credible accidents are unaffected by the proposed amendment.

    Therefore, the proposed change does not involve a significant increase in the probability or consequences of an accident previously evaluated.

    2. Does the proposed amendment create the possibility of a new or different kind of accident from any accident previously evaluated?

    Response: No.

    The proposed changes reduce the scope of the emergency plan and EAL scheme commensurate with the hazards associated with a permanently shutdown and defueled facility. The proposed changes do not involve installation of new equipment or modification of existing equipment, so that no new equipment failure modes are introduced. Also, the proposed changes do not result in a change to the way that the equipment or facility is operated so that no new or different kinds of accident initiators are created.

    Therefore, the proposed change does not create the possibility of a new or different kind of accident from any previously evaluated.

    3. Does the proposed amendment involve a significant reduction in a margin of safety?

    Response: No.

    Margin of safety is associated with confidence in the ability of the fission product barriers (i.e., fuel cladding, reactor coolant system pressure boundary, and containment structure) to limit the level of radiation dose to the public. The proposed changes are associated with the emergency plan and EAL scheme and do not impact operation of the plant or its response to transients or accidents. The change does not affect the Technical Specifications. The proposed changes do not involve a change in the method of plant operation, and no accident analyses will be affected by the proposed changes. Safety analysis acceptance criteria are not affected by the proposed changes. The revised SEP will continue to provide the necessary response staff with the proposed changes.

    Therefore, the proposed change does not involve a significant reduction in a margin of safety.

    The NRC staff has reviewed the licensee’s analysis and, based on this review, it appears that the three standards of 10 CFR 50.92(c) are satisfied. Therefore, the NRC staff proposes to determine that the amendment request involves no significant hazards consideration.

    Attorney for licensee: Ms. Jeanne Cho, Assistant General Counsel, Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc., 400 Hamilton Avenue, White Plains, NY 10601.

    NRC Branch Chief: Douglas A. Broaddus.

  2. similar to a shed.

    Furthermore, positioned as it is beneath a relatively flimsy canopy of ceiling at the top at the reactor, the pool could be targeted by terrorists using all manner of aircraft, now including civilian drones.

    Congrats Sue — they couldn’t have made a better choice! Sorry I’m so Vermont Yankee weary – plagued w/Fukushima fatigue – it was the melting point for me npi!

    (Please note: as always, this diary represents my own personal views and not necessarily those of Fairewinds Energy Education, where I am employed in a non-technical capacity.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *